Storytelling school

Building Skills and Stories: UW-La Crosse Digital Storytelling Project Amplifies Diverse Voices

Heather Linville, professor of educational studies at UW-La Crosse, helps local middle school student Julia Bacalso with her digital storytelling project. Through the “We Live in La Crosse: Stories of Belonging” project, Linville hopes to amplify diverse voices in the La Crosse community.

An award-winning lumberjack who started at age 6.

A school district employee who supports coffee bean farmers in his native Guatemala.

These are the types of stories featured in “We Live in La Crosse: Stories of Belonging” — a digital storytelling project led by Heather Linville, professor of educational studies at UW-La Crosse.

“As the person who made La Crosse his home, I thought about how to amplify people whose voices are often hidden,” says Linville. “Our goal is to work with them – people who are multilingual or from diverse backgrounds – and give them the tools to share their story.”

One week in mid-July, Linville and digital storyteller Polina Vinogradova hosted 15 local students and community members at a computer lab at Lincoln Middle School in La Crosse.

Linville and Vinogradova showed the class examples of digital storytelling, exploring themes of home, belonging and multilingualism.

Students also learned digital storytelling software and techniques, such as how to blend photos and audio clips into a cohesive narrative.

Some of the stories will be featured this fall in a public exhibit at the Pump House Regional Arts Center.

“When we started the project, they had no idea what their story would be or where they were going,” says Linville. “It was fun to watch them react to the project and really engage.”

With guidance from Linville and Vinogradova, the students developed unique and colorful stories based on their life experiences.

Julia Bacalso, a student at Longfellow Middle School, created a story about her love for Korean pop music.

Victoria Stojalowsky, a student at Logan Middle School, focused on her favorite sports: volleyball, softball, basketball and others.

And Aini Anderson, a student at Holmen Middle School, shared her passion for logrolling, a sport she learned at age 6 after her father saw an article in the newspaper.

“I tell the story of my beginnings until today, and how much I climbed and improved,” says Aini. “Logrolling is fun, but it’s a lot harder than it looks. My friend tried it and could barely stay.

Aini, proud but humble, says she kept her footing for over an hour once.

Turning those memories into a story — and watching others do the same — was educational and rewarding, Aini says.

“It’s a lot of people doing a lot of different things. Everyone has their mind on something different,” she explains. “I’m really glad I did this. It was really interesting.

Aini Anderson, a student at Holmen Middle School, has created a story about her passion for logrolling – a sport she learned at age 6 after her father saw an article in the newspaper.

Edgar Rodriguez, teaching assistant interpreter for the La Crosse school district, took the opportunity to support a cause close to his heart.

Rodriguez remains close to many people in his native Guatemala, including struggling coffee farmers due to economic conditions and a hurricane that devastated the country in 2020.

To support them, he sells their coffee beans in the La Crosse area, where the profits are much higher. He also runs an Airbnb offering guest workshops on coffee history, coffee roasting, and coffee tasting.

He calls these efforts Coffee for Hope, the basis of his story.

“I want to help the community and improve the lives of these coffee farmers and their families,” he explains. “When I started the digital storytelling workshop, I didn’t know much about it. Now I have the opportunity to express myself and share my story with a wider audience.

Better yet, Linville notes, these storytelling projects are not self-contained.

The skills developed through the workshop can be applied in many ways, far into the future.

“We want everyone to walk away with these skills and tools,” Linville says. “A story can be more than words.”

About the project

“We Live in La Crosse: Stories of Belonging” was made possible by a grant from Wisconsin Humanities, with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities and its A More Perfect Union initiative. This is part of Linville’s research sabbatical.