Adena Barnette-Miller

Ashbrook Ambassador in West Virginia receives another award for her history teaching

Published on Nov. 16, 2023
Ashland University

During her more than 20 years of teaching, Adena Barnette-Miller has earned West Virginia History Teacher of the Year (2021), James Madison Foundation Congressional Fellow (2019) and West Virginia DAR Outstanding Teacher of American History (2016) honors – to name just a few.

The Old Hickory Chapter (in Ripley, West Virginia) of the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) Women in American History Award in October is the most recent of her many awards, and she was recently elected president of the West Virginia Council for the Social Studies, an association that provides professional development for all West Virginia social studies teachers.

Barnette-Miller said she would not be the caliber of teacher she is today without her Master of American History and Government (MAHG) coursework and learning experiences at Ashland University.

“Completing and graduating from the MAHG program is the single most important thing I've done in my teaching career. It was life-changing,” said Barnette-Miller, who earned her MAHG degree in 2014.

The MAHG program completely changed how she teaches her students at Ripley High, and at West Virginia State University, where she is an adjunct professor, Barnette-Miller said.

“My classes are a continuous discussion of history where we explore primary sources and historical events in depth,” Barnette-Miller said. “My goal is to help my students become good citizens who think critically and understand the historical context of what's happening around them.

“I use everything I learned during my (MAHG) classes in my classroom,” she added. “It is the only program of its type in the United States where social studies teachers and graduate professors work together to analyze and discuss primary source materials. Learning is a discussion, never a lecture. The program is set up to ensure classroom social studies educators can be successful in their classrooms.”

Being named the 2011 West Virginia James Madison Foundation Fellow allowed Barnette-Miller to attend AU.

The James Madison Foundation awards its fellows with $24,000 toward graduate education at an institution of higher learning of their choice. As funding permits, the Foundation awards one fellowship per year for each state, according to its website.   

“I have encouraged so many of my friends to apply for the Madison Fellowship and to attend Ashland and they have each, in turn, loved it as I did,” said Barnette-Miller, whose friends include many she met during her time on the AU campus for the MAHG program.

Continuing her association with AU, Barnette-Miller is an Ashbrook Ambassador for the Ashbrook Center, an independent academic center on the university’s campus with classes taught by many of AU’s history and political science professors and has authored articles for Ashbrook’s Teaching American History website.

Ashbrook Ambassadors facilitate American history primary source-centered seminars around the United States. Barnette-Miller has facilitated two seminars in West Virginia since becoming an Ashbrook ambassador last year, one in Wheeling about Abraham Lincoln and the Union and another in Charleston about Booker T. Washington.

Seeing West Virginia teachers become engaged in what she calls the “Ashland way,” where participants become actively engaged in the discussion of documents through the Socratic method is what Barnette-Miller said she enjoys most about being an Ashbrook Ambassador.

“It is an entirely new way of learning for most folks and most teachers love it,” she said. “Once a teacher attends a seminar, they will continue coming back because of the scholarship of the professors and the collegiality of the participants.”

So far, she has authored two blog posts for Ashbrook’s Teaching American History website, one about West Virginia statehood and the other about John Ross’s Address to the Cherokee Nation. Ross was the chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1828 to 1866.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed both writing experiences because I’ve written about events I am passionate about teaching to my students,” Barnette-Miller said. “I am so thankful for the opportunity to share them with Ashbrook educators and the public at-large.”

Among the many people who have supported Barnette-Miller throughout her career as an educator are David Tucker, Ph.D., director of Teacher Programs at AU and an Ashbrook senior fellow, and his wife, Ellen, communications editor for the Ashbrook Center.

“Adena is an exceptionally motivated and effective teacher,” Ellen Tucker said. “One reason for her effectiveness is that she grew up in the community where she teaches; she intimately understands its local culture; and, while she could have accepted teaching opportunities elsewhere, she came home to teach the next generation.”

Tucker has visited Barnette-Miller’s classroom and said she is impressed with how Barnette-Miller gently encourages hesitant readers as they parse the unfamiliar language of the centuries of the discovery, settlement and early nationhood of America and “helps students reach beyond themselves, discovering capabilities they did not know they had.”

Building relationships with her students and their families is the reason she is still in the classroom and passionate about teaching social studies, history and government, Barnette-Miller said.

“My students give me faith in the future of our country, and I am honored to play a small role in their educational experiences,” she said.