Posted 8 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022

UW-La Crosse Professor of Educational Studies Heather Linville helps local middle school student Julia Bacalso on 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.

UW-La Crosse digital storytelling project amplifies diverse voices

An award-winning logroller who started at 6 years old.

A school district employee supporting 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 UW-La Crosse Professor of Educational Studies Heather Linville.

“As someone who has made La Crosse her home, I’ve been thinking about how to amplify people whose voices are often hidden,” Linville explains. “Our goal is to work with them — people who are multilingual or come 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 in 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 about 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 exhibition at the Pump House Regional Arts Center.

“When we started the project, they had no idea what their story would be or where it was going to go,” Linville says. “It’s been fun to see them respond to the project and really get engaged.”

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 picked up at 6 years old after her father saw an article in the newspaper.

“I tell the story of when I was a beginner up to today, and how much I’ve gone uphill and gotten better,” Aini says. “Logrolling is fun, but it’s a lot harder than it looks. My friend tried it out and could barely stay on.”

Aini, proud yet humble, says she kept her footing for more than an hour once.

Crafting these 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 set 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, created a story about her passion for logrolling — a sport she picked up at 6 years old after her father saw an article in the newspaper.

Edgar Rodriguez, a teaching assistant interpreter for the School District of La Crosse, took the opportunity to support a cause near to his heart.

Rodriguez remains close to many people in his native Guatemala, including coffee farmers who are struggling 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 profits are much greater. He also runs an Airbnb offering guests 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 an opportunity to express myself and share my story with a wider audience.”

Best of all, 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 leave with these skills and these tools,” Linville says. “A story can be more than just 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. It is part of Linville’s sabbatical research.