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Ciara Litchfield

Portrait of Ciara Litchfield

Ciara Litchfield – Minerva, Ohio

When I first began researching Blacksville, I found little about the town online. Outside of sporting events at Clay-Battelle Middle and High School, there wasn’t a lot of media coverage. It was hard to find out about the town. Simple searches turned up businesses near the area but not a lot of information about people.

As I drove into the town, I noticed there weren’t many stoplights, gas stations, or streets diverging from the main road. People gathered at places like the Senior Center and the Creek N’ Rail Café. This was very similar to where I grew up, so it wasn’t very different from what I expected. This is where I decided to start my reporting.

The first person I spoke to in town was Melissa Rummage. She is the owner of the Creek N’ Rail. She was the first person to give me major information to help me get started. She told me that basically everyone communicates in person and that it’s pretty hard to get phone numbers in the area. This have been because people just don’t regularly use their phones, or because they don’t appreciate unknown callers, or maybe because they don’t share other people’s numbers. This was understandable but made my job 1000 times more difficult.

Then I spoke with the town librarian. She showed me a book that the library sold that had a history of the entire town and its people. This was the first time I really understood how proud this town was of its people and history. Each person I talked with turned me to Bryan Kelly who is the current mayor of Blacksville. Speaking with these people led me to see that while the town didn’t have a lot of social events to offer, many used the local Middle and Senior High as a community center and hub of information. Several residents told me that the whole town came out for track meets and other athletic events.

I identified the story about teachers while speaking with Clay-Battelle Principal David Cottrell. He revealed that one issue at Clay-Battelle was the teacher shortage and how the school had to fill positions with two permanent substitutes. These substitutes were Mr. Ammons and Mrs. Coen. They had each worked at Clay-Battelle before in different capacities. Ammons was a retired teacher from the school, and Coen was an athletic trainer who decided to get her certification to substitute since she was already at the school so much anyway. These two teachers were substituting for special education classrooms for an entire academic year while the school continued to advertise the job openings.

One challenge of working on this story was that many people didn’t feel comfortable speaking to me over the phone. Melissa Rummage was the one who actually suggested going to knock on front doors, and she could tell us exactly where most people lived. As I began reporting on the teacher shortage another hurdle that arose was that students couldn’t be photographed or recorded without parental permission, but getting that over the phone was a non-starter, and I was going to classes and working 30 minutes away from the community. To get interviews and comments, I needed to drive to the town. Teachers and principals could only speak with me during their planning periods or whenever they had a spare moment, so I had to schedule travel to the community accordingly.

Further questions regarding the school that remain for me include how much funding the school receives from the Monongalia County Board of Education in comparison to the county’s other schools. and how much the school receives from athletic events and fundraisers.