BUCKHANNON — The Rotary Club of Buckhannon-Upshur met again in person on Tuesday, April 5, welcoming a presentation from Matthew Sisk, who serves as the Safety and Emergency Preparedness Director for Upshur County Schools.
Sisk, a Lynchburg, Va. native, traveled to the Appalachian region when he was a member of his youth church group. He has a background in criminal justice and juvenile criminal justice. Prior to working for Upshur County Schools, Sisk worked at Glenville State College and served as the Director of Safety and Security at Alderson Broaddus University. Sisk believes that education is one of the most important endeavors in our lives and that it is imperative that students and families have a safe environment.
Sisk spoke highly of Upshur County and noted, “being impressed with research of Upshur County and knew then he wanted to be part of this team. Upshur County is setting the bar.” Sisk went on to compare the differences in working in safety and emergency preparedness in a kindergarten through 12th grade setting versus the higher education setting. “K-12 is less frustrating in the sense that they have a willingness to move forward,” said Sisk, who elaborated that in his experience in higher education that was not always the case. “They step more cautiously,” said Sisk.
Sisk went on to discuss some of his duties in more detail. He noted running various drills, such as hostile intruder, fire and weather drills. Sisk reported it is quite a task and noted that drills had been placed on a hold secondary to the pandemic. However, Sisk has set a goal to complete 50 drills throughout the nine schools in Upshur County this year. Another type of drill Sisk mentioned was that of a medical emergency. “We want our students to also know what to do if their teacher would become incapacitated,” explained Sisk. The director mentioned an event that took place in Connecticut, in which young students had been taught to stay seated and their teacher had experienced a stroke. The young students were not educated on this type of drill and stayed seated, as they thought they were supposed to, and unfortunately the teacher succumbed to damage incurred from the stroke.
Furthermore, Sisk spoke of other events, such as the use of tobacco and social media trends. Sisk took example from Upshur County Schools stating a common issue are vape pens. Sisk noted how he worked with the Upshur County Board of Education and led Upshur County to join a lawsuit regarding vape pens. Sisk also reported that in December of 2021, there was a TikTok trend that called for a National Day to Attack Schools. Luckily Upshur County did not have any issues from this, being that Sisk works closely with the Board of Education. Sisk also reported that he utilizes data from the United States Secret Service reports to perform his job successfully.
Some of the current or upcoming trainings include disarming intruders training for teachers, as well as teaching teachers how and when to use stop bleed kits, which are not to be confused with first aid kits. Sisk also noted that Run, Hide, Fight trainings are being utilized in Upshur County Schools. Sisk said, “Fighting is always a last case scenario. Don’t try to be a hero.”
Sisk shared that Upshur County Schools also have a Pro Officer Program in the middle school and high school. Sisk oversees this program, which is run by the Upshur County Sheriff’s Department. It allows law enforcement to act quickly in events as they are already on scene.
After his presentation, Sisk received some questions from Rotary members. Sisk was questioned regarding safety procedures for school sporting events. “A lot of my responsibilities are indirect except for drills. It is ultimately the principals of those schools that are responsible for those events. Should they have a need or a desire I am there and will be more than happy to provide additional guidance,” said Sisk. He was also questioned about Fred Eberle Technical Center drills to which he responded, “Technically, they are not under our umbrella, but we do assist them with their drills.” Sisk was also asked about safety preparedness for pre-kindergarten schools. Sisk confirmed, “We are working on that.” Another question was asked regarding how local fire departments used to be present to run fire drills and do a sweep. Sisk noted that, while he is unsure why that is not performed anymore, it is worth looking into and that it would be greatly beneficial and is one of his goals is to make happen again.
Overall Sisk shared that he is reworking a lot of bridges that have existed or that need to be built.
“We need that communication between the Upshur County Board of Education and all the other resources that exist within the county,” said Sisk.
In addition to the program presented by Matthew Sisk, Rotarians were led in the Pledge of Allegiance and 4-Way Test by Sergeant-at-Arms member David W. Long. Rotarians also continued their “Happy Bucks” collection. Member Lisa Wharton noted a successful blood drive and collection of canned food for The Parish House over the previous weekend.
Another blood drive is slated to be scheduled in September. Blood screenings remain on hold secondary to limited supplies. Rotarians welcomed new member Matt Malone, who could not be present at the meeting. Rotarian Kelly Tierney noted a successful backpack fundraiser program, in which the goal was $10,000. The program looks to surpass the goal with a total of up to $14,000.
Rotarians will be aiding in handing out food baskets for The Parish House on Thursday, April 14. They will also be helping in the Stockert Youth Center clean-up day scheduled on Saturday, April 23. Rotary Club meetings are noted to be held at a different location during Strawberry Festival activities and the location will be announced soon. The next meeting of the Rotary Club of Buckhannon-Upshur will be held on Tuesday, April 19 at noon in-person at Engle Hall.