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A laptop and studio microphone perched on an open drawer of a dresser to make a makeshift studio in a dorm room

Raegan Calvert's makeshift studio. Photo courtesy of Thomas Easterling.

Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science student Raegan Calvert explores the challenges and opportunities in her hometown of Wiggins, Mississippi.

From a classroom in Columbus, Mississippi podcasts are reshaping how high-school students research and tell stories of their hometowns. Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science English teacher Thomas Easterling explains the inception of his idea here (with an introduction by Deborah Fallows detailing how Our Towns reporting on Columbus began in 2014).

This is the first installment of a series highlighting some of the Real Mississippi podcasts, now in its third season. Here is Raegan Calvert’s “You Can Go Back Home Again.”

An aging population. Cracked sidewalks. Zoning laws and ordinances. Stray cats. All things you’ll find at the center of the discussion of what’s next for Wiggins, Mississippi, and in Raegan Calvert’s episode of the Real Mississippi podcast series, “You Can Go Back Home Again,” which you can listen to here: 

Wiggins, Mississippi used to be a town bustling with life. Its downtown area, Pine Hill Avenue, once had businesses lining its streets; however, in recent years, it finds itself with only two businesses left standing. The people in town are growing restless as a discussion concerning Wiggins’ next steps towards growth breaks out within its local government. Join Raegan Calvert in this episode of Real Mississippi as she explains the situation unfolding on Pine Hill Avenue. Produced by Braedon Rothert.

Calvert’s 8-minute-long podcast opens a window to her hometown. With a population just over 4,500, Wiggins, as Calvert notes in the podcast, is the only city in Mississippi’s Stone County (population 18,644). 

“Although the problem is quite clear, the solution isn’t,” she tells listeners. 

Raegan Calvert headshot
Raegan Calvert

Without giving too much away (Calvert’s context-setting and storytelling are the episode’s strengths), the problem isn’t one Wiggins faces alone. Like other places, Wiggins saw a highway diverted away from the town. Rather than being a place to go, it became a place to drive by. As the traffic crawled away from and out of the town, so did businesses and opportunities, and eventually, young people. 

“The fact that Wiggins used to have a movie theater shocked me the most,” Calvert said about what she learned researching her hometown. “While looking through Stone County Enterprise clippings from the 1940s, I saw multiple advertisements for the Palace Theatre on Pine Hill Avenue and its weekly showings.”

Today, along the Pine Hill Avenue stretch of the downtown (where Calvert focuses her attention) just two of the nine buildings are occupied with businesses. There, listeners learn of the discussions heating up around zoning laws and ordinances, hear from two residents Calvert interviewed, and find out what role stray cats are playing in the mix.

“I remember hearing about it from my peers and on Facebook,” she said. “That was the starting point, and it only grew from there.”

“You Can Go Back Home Again” and Wiggins are just one of several podcasts and places in Mississippi we’ll highlight in this series. Collectively, these student-produced podcasts invite listeners to towns and cities they might not otherwise have visited, or known of, to explore and learn about the real challenges and opportunities that have played out in the past and are on stage today.  

“Places like Mississippi are easy to stereotype—thinking everyone here has the same political views, religion, and accent,” Calvert said. “Listening to these podcasts made me realize that everyone in Mississippi have their own lives, stories, and experiences. That’s a weird thing to think about.”

You can read Thomas Easterling in his own words on why he began assigning students to podcasts here. You can listen to Raegan Calvert’s “You Can Go Back Home Again” here, and the entire archives of Real Mississippi podcasts here.