The Pocahontas County Board of Education implemented a new program this year through the West Virginia Department of Education. Known as Communities in Schools, the program focuses on keeping students in school and helping them succeed in their education and prepare for their future.
Director of curriculums, instruction and federal programs Lynne Bostic first brought the program to the board’s attention and received funding through the WVDE for three site coordinator positions.
“The goal of the program is to meet the physical, social and emotional needs of our students so they can be successful in life,” Bostic said.
The board hired Jonathan Paul, Derek Trull and Lois Wilfong as the three site coordinators, and all three have been working in their assigned schools to identify goals and ways to reach out to the students to help them in their everyday school life.
“We’ve only been in school for – not even nine weeks yet – and they have just made a difference already,” Bostic said. “I cannot thank them enough for what they’re doing for the students, the communities and the staff within our county.
“The mission of Communities in Schools is to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life,” she continued. “I think these three site coordinators are phenomenal at doing that.”
Paul has been in the education field for more than 20 years and served as a special education teacher in Maryland before moving to Pocahontas County with his wife – Amy Barkley – an Arbovale native.
“My heart has always been with children, and working with children is one of the strengths that I have,” he said. “I’ve worked with children with autism, and I had a parent come up to me and say,‘you don’t understand. My son signed for me the first time this morning what he wanted for breakfast. For the first time of his seven years of his life, I’ve communicated with my child.’
“Seeing those kinds of reactions,” he explained, “To see that a child succeeded and graduated high school because you helped them in middle school. Those are the goals we’re looking at here.”
Paul is the CIS site coordinator at Green Bank Elementary-Middle School and is focused on helpings students improve their reading skills and encouraging more family involvement.
“I have two goals in my arsenal this year,” he said. “We are working on family involvement and my day-to-day work is working with kids who are low functioning in reading and just maybe struggling to keep organized,” he said. “Like I explained to the teachers in our school, we are here as a support to help those kids get to graduation. That’s the end goal – to get these kids to graduate on time.”
For family involvement, Paul has created take home activities called Together Bags which students work on with their families.
Trull is the CIS coordinator at Marlinton Middle School and has been a science teacher in the past at both Pocahontas County High School and GBEMS.
Prior to moving to Pocahontas County, Trull was an art teacher in North Carolina and had an experience with a student that set him on the path he is on today.
“I was a noob – if you will – to the profession,” he said. “When I went into it I thought, ‘oh, this is going to be fun and games.’ And then I was faced with a very difficult case with a student who was autistic. He could not interact socially. He was nonverbal. For some reason, this really hit me, and I took it on as a personal goal of mine to understand this student, to see what made him tick because I’d never experienced anything like that before – not even in my student teaching.”
The student spent every day with Trull for six months of the school year, and Trull was amazed at the progress they made.
“By the end of half of that time, he was reading at grade level, if not above,” Trull said. “He was interacting slightly with the students, and it just triggered something in the counselor bone in my body. After a couple years of med school – learning a lot about student mental health and the different things that have plagued students – I really had a passion for people who are a little less fortunate than others, even though I see them as more fortunate in other ways.
“So, that’s my passion, I guess, just helping those that can’t always help themselves,” he added.
Trull was actually working at GBEMS at the beginning of the school year when this position was posted and he felt compelled to apply.
“When I saw this pop up, I read the description and was like, ‘yes,’” he said. “It felt like it was written for me.”
Like Paul, Trull said his goals for MMS include improving reading skills and proficiency in the core subjects. He also wants to implement the school’s high tunnel as a behavioral health tool for students.
“One of my personal things that I like to work on is behavior and the social/emotional aspect of kids in the schools,” he said. “We have a high tunnel at the school, and I want to put that to good use. We are going to have skills building – using it for behavior–management type deal. The students are going to work and maintain a garden year round, and we’re actually going to be using that food here in the school system to help supplement the nutrition program.”
Trull is also collaborating with Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Cara Rose and the National Interscholastic Cycling Association to start a mountain biking program for students.
Wilfong is the CIS site coordinator at Pocahontas County High School and is focusing on reaching out to students who need help in many areas as they prepare for entering the real world after graduation.
“I’m getting a lot of referrals of folks wanting to try to get their students organized more, so that seems to be one of my big goals right now,” she said. “I’m also learning Teams, seeing how to navigate through that and just try to help students.
“I can work with Career Connections,” she continued. “I can help you get a job if that’s what you want to do. I can help you get organized. So, a lot of it is just me trying to get the word out, but again, I’m pretty covered up with just getting students organized at this point.”
Wilfong also hopes to include the community by connecting students with individuals who are interested in tutoring or mentoring.
“I’m reaching out to some folks in the community that might be able to tutor, as there are some students I feel could use a mentor, so that, too, is something I am trying to do on the high school level,” she said.
Wilfong has worked in the mental health field, as well as the education field, so she was drawn to the coordinator position because it combined the two fields from her past.
“I was feeling like I really wanted to get back into helping students, working with them,” she said. “Kind of like Derek, I thought, ‘you know what, this is really what I want to do.’ I’ve always had a passion for helping people, helping folks – whatever I can do. I want to make it better. I want to fix it. I want to make things better for folks and give them opportunities. I have a passion for that, as well.”
The three CIS site coordinators are looking forward to continuing their work in the schools and helping those students who need it most.
“I like to describe it in a sense – in a filter system as everything trickles down and you have the large resources that take care of the kids on the larger, grander scales,” Trull explained. “There are those kids that will get all the way down to that fine filter and I call us that finer filter of the filter system. We are the catchall. We are catching those kids that have slipped through those cracks and those nooks and crannies, and we’re trying to keep them from falling by the wayside.”