Four years ago, when Jean Srodes began volunteering as an AmeriCorps at Marlinton Middle School, her goal was to implement an array of clubs to suit the needs of the students.
“Everybody doesn’t play football or soccer,” Srodes said. “They have too much screen time. They’re not getting sixty minutes of aerobic exercise every day outside of PE. [I wanted] to give them exposure to things they wouldn’t interact with in their normal everyday life here.”
Srodes began with a golf club and radio club, both of which have attracted a lot of attention from students. Over the years, Srodes and a couple MMS teachers have added horseback riding, gardening and a bicycle club.
“We do a lot of things,” Srodes said.
Along with adding more clubs, Srodes has gained added help, from PE/Health teacher Jessica Hays and English/Language Arts teacher Jared Bennett.
Hays joined Srodes last year as a golf coach and is taking the reins of the bicycle club.
“Last year was my first year here and I heard [Jean] was doing the golf club, and I wanted to jump on board,” Hays said. “It’s good for the kids to start so young. It’s a lifetime sport, so you can play it for the rest of your life.”
The golf club has grown in the past several years, so much so, that Hays and Srodes have enlisted the help of Bennett as another coach.
“The kids like the golf club, and I just handed out my permission forms yesterday, and I handed out, like, seventy, so we’ll see,” Hays said. “I’m going to need help if we’re going to have that many. Mr. Bennett – I think he’s kind of busy with football right now. We’re going to have golf in the spring, as well, so he’ll probably help.”
Inspired by Srodes’ drive to get new clubs at the school, Hays has a few ideas of her own.
“There are so many possible things,” she said. “I just like keeping the kids out of trouble. It’s something for them to do to make friends. I wanted to start a volleyball club, but I didn’t really get to that, yet – maybe in the spring. I personally want to do something with the girls.”
The two newest programs – horseback riding and bicycle club – were funded through grants and personal donations which helped get them off the ground.
“The horseback riding – I had funding for that last year, and then I was going to start looking for funding again, and a woman came into the FRN one day and said to me, ‘I love horses, and I know you’re doing an equine therapy program, what can I do for you?’” Srodes said. “I said, ‘it’s pretty expensive, about $1,200,’ and she said, ‘I’ll write you a check.’ So, I have funding for that this fall.”
Srodes and FRN employee Becky Campbell wrote a grant to “Try This” and received funding for the bicycle club.
“We got ten bikes and helmets, and Jessica is going to do a bike club,” Srodes said.
“We’re so fortunate with all these resources around us, especially the Greenbrier River Trail, so we just thought ‘why not?’” Hays said. “We’re just trying to spark interest with the kids. Right now, all we’re doing with the bikes is laps around the school. I need to figure out a way to get down to the trail. We’re still in the early steps.”
Some of the clubs also include Green Bank Elementary/Middle School students, and Srodes said she hopes to add more at the northern school.
“I have a couple of things I want to do this year,” she said. “I want to have an observatory club for the Green Bank kids. I’m going to write a Snowshoe [Foundation] grant and this year, I’m going to write it for a ham radio operators club for the kids. The ham operator – there are schools around the country where the kids get to talk to the astronauts at the Space Station on their ham radios. I’ve also talked about getting kayaks through a grant.”
Through all the clubs and special projects, Srodes said she has seen a change in the students. The students are more engaged in the community and in the school.
“We did a gardening project around town and they loved that,” she said. “They love going to the animal shelter. They really like doing community service. It makes them feel good.”
During the horseback riding visits, one student in particular was given a chance to shine.
“We had to go with small groups, and there’s one boy who got to be the leader of every group, and he just beamed when he would get there,” Srodes said. “He would say, ‘animals love me.’ It was something that he felt really good about because we’d almost always have one new kid and he’d say, ‘that’s okay, I’ll tell you how to do it.’ It was a wonderful experience for him.”
As they continue to look for new ideas for programs and clubs to start at the school, Srodes said she and the school are open to volunteers who would like to lead or help with a club.
The sky is the limit.