Golden LEAF Scholarship Alumni Spotlight: Emily Singleton

Name:  Emily Singleton
High School Attended: Avery County High School
Home County: Avery
College(s) Attended/ Years Attended:  Appalachian State — 2015 – 2019
Major(s):  Art Education (K-12)
County Now Living In: Avery
Employer: Avery County Schools
Title: Visual Arts Teacher
Years Working for Current Employer: One

What are some of your major accomplishments during college?

While in college, I was very proud of the work I was doing with the Crossnore School and Children’s Home, which was made possible by the Golden LEAF Foundation. My summer internship at the Crossnore School resulted in a job during the school semester. I felt very accomplished that I was getting to see and work with children with trauma using the arts to grow social and emotional learning and get to put the knowledge from my classes into immediate action.

Another huge accomplishment of mine would be getting an art scholarship and graduating Magna Cum Laude— the first in my family to ever go to college, and I graduated with honors.

What would you tell someone interested in applying for the Golden LEAF Scholarship about being a recipient?

This scholarship and leadership program changed my life. I could not afford to go to college without this help, a $12,000 scholarship. I also believe that the reason I found a job immediately after graduation in a very small and limited field of work in art education, in a very rural mountain county, is largely because of the opportunities the Leadership program offered. My freshman year internship resulted in my current job at Avery County Schools. The next two years, I worked at a rural group foster home, which was the most valuable experience of my life. This would not have ever been possible without the stipend for the work because their budget could not afford to hire me without it. I felt financially supported, emotionally supported by my peers and my coach, and supported by the conferences that helped me to become a more confident and stronger leader.

Apply for this scholarship. Like I said, it was life altering, especially for someone who felt pressure to move to a bigger city in search of a job when my heart was not there.

What helped you decide to live/ work in a rural area?

I grew up in Avery County and could not imagine living anywhere else that was not like it. I was pretty poor growing up but my parents did the best they could. I had friends who lost parents to the opioid crisis, I had classmates who were in and out of foster care because their parents could not support them in our economy. I saw people struggle and come together to help in our close tight-knit community.

The reason I wanted to come back was because I wanted to make a difference in the lives of children who grew up like I did. I felt like I could relate and have a better chance of making meaningful relationships, and now doing so, I still believe this. I know how it is, and I know it is possible to do anything you set your mind to. Who would have guessed that a girl living in a trailer on Henson Creek Road would end up graduating with honors, become a commissioned artist for cities, school systems,  private businesses, the courthouse, county buildings, etc., and get her dream job right after college. I want to let kids know they can do whatever they want no matter their circumstance, and that I love them if they feel like no one else does.

What kind of leadership roles are you serving in currently?

Teaching at Avery Middle School and Avery High School and mentoring at-risk students.

What did you learn during your experience with the Golden LEAF Scholars Leadership Program?

I learned about how important networking is and about myself as a leader. I learned what my strengths were and how to develop them more fully. I learned how to interview, I learned how to plan fundraisers and community service events with a group, I learned that I am not ‘less than’ because of where I am from.

What internship experiences did you have?

I had 3 wonderful internship experiences. I was first able to intern at my old high school with who I consider my mentor and the reason I went into art education. He retired and I took his job actually. I learned from him about the stuff you do not think about as a student— all the prep, paperwork, and other behind the scenes jobs that are essential to successful teaching.

For my next 2, I interned with the Crossnore School and Children’s Home. I did a lot of different things here, but my main role was to teach different types of summer art classes to teenagers and do daily art enrichments with kids below 12. I also interned with the recreation director and got to make lots of valuable relationships with not only the kids I worked with, but with the president of the organization, the residential directors and supervisors, and many other professional networks. This internship molded me deeply into who I am as a teacher now, focusing on teaching kids how to use art to work out issues they might be facing internally.

Did your experiences help shape your decision to live/ work in rural areas? If so, how?

It not only solidified my idea that I wanted to work in Avery county, but also opened so many doors for me. I was able to get reference letters from my internships, coaches, and even the president of Golden Leaf if I had so needed. I was confident while interviewing, I had my resume full of experiences from this foundation, I had valuable and reliable networks that I would’ve never had before. If you are from a small town, you know how important it can be to ‘know people’ who can vouch for you and your work ethic, and Golden LEAF assured I would have that.

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