Family Resource Network director Laura Young gave a presentation at the Pocahontas County Board of Education meeting Monday afternoon on the Innovation Zone Grants the school system received from 2012 to 2018. Young wrote the grant applications for the funds and helped the BOE implement multiple programs with the grant. Pictured, from left: Young, student representative Jarod Liptrap, and board members John Burns, Becky Campbell and Joe Walker. S. Stewart photo

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

After six years and $600,000 in Innovation Zone grants, the Pocahontas County Board of Education has seen many changes in the county’s schools, thanks to dropout prevention and wellness programs founded with the grant money.

At the board meeting Monday afternoon, the board and grant administrator Laura Young celebrated the gains made as a result of the funding.

The first three years of the grant focused on dropout prevention and created programs at Pocahontas County High School to help students stay in school and receive a degree or GED.

“When we first started this, we didn’t have that GED option up and running,” Young said. “We didn’t even know how to put kids in there. We spent a lot of time on that, just building the foundation, and I’m so proud to see where we’re at today.”

Those involved in the programs – Option Pathway teacher Emily McLaughlin and graduation coach Jerry Dale – explained how the programs grew and revealed that students responded well to the Option Pathway, which had them earning a high school degree. Many of the students who went through Mc-Laughlin’s class were on the path of dropping out and through her assistance, graduated with a purpose.

The grant also paved the way for credit recovery with Jean Srodes, which helped students catch up with their classmates and graduate on time.

“That was Jean,” Young said. “That was really the first thing that she did under the Innovation Zone. It was the first summer we had this. Over the course of six weeks, she helped our students recover eighteen credits.”

While the dropout prevention was only three years of the grant period, the programs continued and PCHS benefited greatly, increasing the graduation rate each year for the past six years.

“This is where we started in 2012-13 – at 80.2 percent graduation rate,” Young said. “We were running that pretty steadily for the next year. It was the exact same percentage. We upped that just a little bit in 2014-15, and I want you to remember all the turnover we had in our administration in those three years. It just about killed me. It about killed us all.”

Young referred to the time period when PCHS went through five principals in five years and the school system had three superintendents in those years, as well. The instability in administration caused issues for the schools, but once those positions stabilized, so did the graduation rates.

“We hung in here because we are fighters in Pocahontas County, and we were going to persevere, and I am so happy to say that we are now at 88.2 and 88.6 percent and that we met our goal of raising the graduation rate by one percent every year for six years,” Young said. “I commend you for the work that you did. No single one person did this. It took everybody in this room and a multitude of other people in this county and out of this county to make that happen.”

The next three years of the grant focused on wellness, and programs were implemented specifically in the middle schools, though all schools did benefit in the long run.

To improve the health and wellness of students in the county, the grant money was used to implement after school clubs and activities, as well as change the school menus to provide healthier and fresher options for the students.

Although there is not an exact number at this time, Young said Srodes started dozens of after school clubs for students, including the radio club, bicycling club, quilting, equine therapy, kayaking and many more.

The county was beginning to notice a difference, and so was the nation. Awards began to pour in, and Srodes personally received three for her work with the after school programs. Srodes received an award from the AmeriCorps director and director of Federal Education Alliance, as well as the Governor’s Award for community service and 2018 Volunteer of the Year through the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition.

“I told her I felt like I won the lottery the day she walked in my office,” Young said of Srodes. “She makes us all look good.”

The food services department also received recognition for its efforts in creating healthier meals. The Healthy United States Schools Challenge for Smarter Lunchroom Strategies presented Hillsboro Elementary School and Marlinton Middle School with gold medals and Green Bank Elementary-Middle School, Marlinton Elementary School and Pocahontas County High School with silver medals.

The gold award came with $1,500 per school and the silver, $1,000 per school. Young said she was proud of those awards because of the number that are given each year.

“Less than three percent of individual schools nationwide win this award,” she said. “Less than three percent. Every school in our county won that.”

Other programs were recognized, such as Libraries Alive at McClintic Library where Deborah Johnson works with students from MES, and the horticulture program at MMS, which is taught by Margaret Worth. Both women shared an overview of their work and how they have seen an increase in confidence and love for learning in the students.

Young finished her presentation with her suggestions for what the schools need to do to continue to build on the positive gains that have been made in the past six years.

“We have got to keep our eye on this GED/Option Pathway – that is an imperative program,” she said. “We’ve got it up and running now. We absolutely, positively need it. We have got to have effective credit recovery programs. That is part of the job that we want the graduation coach to do. Keep their eyes on that and the instant we realize that a student is going to fail the class, we need to have a plan to recover those credits and do it immediately.

“I think the graduation coach is absolutely imperative,” she continued. “We need to start earlier even, in the middle schools. That’s one thing that we really need to keep going. I think we need mentors in our schools. Really, Jean was a mentor to all of those students. She was their cheerleader, she was a surrogate mother. She just absolutely wore a million hats with those students that she helped. Anybody can do this – we can do this. We just have to be cognizant about it and do it with intention.”

The Innovation Zone grant may be finished, but Young is not.

“The money is gone, but the work is not over,” she said. “We need to ask ourselves, where are we going to go from here. What do we need to do to keep this momentum so we can keep doing good work for our kids.”

Young, who was hired by the board of education this year to be a grant writer, is currently working on a 21st Century Grant which will help continue programs which began with the Innovation Zone.

Young thanked all those involved, and food service director Lisa Dennison, spoke on behalf of those involved and thanked Young for her hard work and dedication to the schools.

“I just want to thank you because $600,000 is a lot of money,” Dennison said. “You took that money and you spent it wisely and this room is just a small, tiny portion of those lives in the adult community that you helped on the grass roots level from the outside in to help our kids. Kudos to you because you built relationships and those relationships are in this room and throughout the entire county.”

Superintendent Terrence Beam thanked Young, as well, and said he is grateful for all the work she has done and will continue to do for the school system.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to thank Laura so much,” Beam said. “We made sure that everything we did was on the up-and-up, and it was the right thing to do. I appreciate her so much. We’re very, very lucky to have someone like her work for our kids.”

The board thanked everyone involved in the programs through the Innovation Zone and thanked Young for her presentation and hard work for the past six years.

In updates:

• Beam said Marlinton Middle School received a $1,500 grant from Education Alliance to engage seventh grade students in free college visits.

Beam added that he and the maintenance director decided to apply for an MIP [Major Improvements Project] grant through the School Building Authority to replace the roof at Green Bank Elementary-Middle School. The BOE received an MIP for GBEMS this year and the roof was excluded from the funding. Beam said he hopes the SBA will approve funding the project to complete the repairs at the school.

• Student representative Jarod Liptrap reported that the National Honor Society continues to visit the elementary schools to work with students and teachers in the classroom and the organization is looking for other community service projects to complete this year. He said they are going to reach out to the Forest Service about a tree planting project.

Liptrap added that spring sports are in full swing and the track teams, softball and baseball teams are representing the school well.

In miscellaneous management, the board approved the following:

• 2019-2010 school calendar and reimagining time non-traditional instructional days application for Pocahontas County Schools.

• Policy BCBM – Board of Education meetings.

• Green Bank Elementary-Middle School students to travel to Massanutten Indoor Water Park, McGaheysville, Virginia, leaving and returning on May 17. Trip to be paid for through fundraising.

• Marlinton Middle School students to travel to Massanuten Indoor Water Park, McGaheysville, Virginia, leaving and returning May 20. Trip to be paid for through fundraising.

• Jessie Sharp as volunteer fourth and fifth grade basketball coach at Marlinton Elementary School, effective for the 2018-2019 season.

• Ronnie Gordon as volunteer fourth and fifth grade basketball coach at Marlinton Elementary School, effective for the 2018-2019 season.

• Kelly Andrews Meck as parent/community volunteer for Pocahontas County Schools for the 2018-2019 school year.

• Samantha Hefner to take her children out of school on educational leave, effective March 21 through April 4.

• Patrick D. Gibson, Justin Kerr and Crystal Kerr to transport eight to 12 students, by private vehicle, to the SkillsUSA Competition in Bridgeport/Clarksburg, March 21 through March 23. Trip to be paid for by CTE funds and school funds.

In professional management, the board approved the following:

• Employment of Silas Sattler as school bus operator for Pocahontas County Schools, effective March 13, for the remainder of the 2018-2019 school year.

• Resignation of Thomas J. Madison, due to retirement, as school bus operator for Pocahontas County Schools, effective at the end of the 2018-2019 school year.

• Resignation of Cora Lee Carpenter, due to retirement, as executive secretary/accountant III for Pocahontas County Schools, effective at the end of the 2018-2019 school year.

• Employment of Susan Ray as substitute teacher for Pocahontas County Schools, effective March 13, for the remainder of the 2018-2019 school year, as needed, at state basic pay.

• Resignation of Joann V. Estep, due to retirement, as secretary III/accountant III at Marlinton Elementary School, effective at the end of the 2018-2109 school year.

• Resignation of Deborah A. Irvine, due to retirement, as teacher of physical education at Marlinton Elementary School, effective at the end of the 2018-2019 school year.

• Resignation of Seth Kiriluk as teacher of social studies at Marlinton Middle School, retroactive to the end of the day of March 6.

• Resignation of Elaine J. Sheets, due to retirement, as teacher of multi-subjects at Green Bank Elementary-Middle School, effective at the end of the 20182-109 school year.

• Resignation of Alesia Wayne, due to retirement, as Title I reading specialist at Green Bank Elementary-Middle School, effective at the end of the 2018-2019 school year.

• Employment of Steph-anie L. Barkley as athletic director for spring sports at Pocahontas County High School, at $20 per hour, not to exceed $1,000, effective for the 2018-2019 season.

The next board meeting will be Monday, March 25, at 6 p.m., at the board of education conference room.