BUCKHANNON — Upshur County Schools Superintendent Dr. Sara Stankus and Child Wellness and Nutrition Director Eddie Vincent spoke to County Commissioners regarding summer program and support opportunities Thursday morning.
Hot meals will be available at all Upshur County schools Monday-Thursday from 9-9:30 a.m. for breakfast and 12-12:30 p.m. for lunch during summer academy days. Those days are: June 14-17, June 21-24, June 28-July 1, July 6-9, and July 12-15. Beginning on June 2, 7-day food boxes were and will continue to be available at the Tennerton Warehouse every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. until July 28. These summer feeding programs are available to all children 18 years of age and younger.
Dr. Stankus emphasized that Upshur County is taking a new focus on wellness and whole child wellness, in terms of mental and physical health. “It is so exciting to be able to do the things that we are going to be able to do with the COVID money,” she expressed. She noted that although the pandemic brought many challenges to Upshur County Schools, it also provided many positive opportunities and initiatives, including the summer feeding and learning programs.
During the Summer Learning Program, students will participate in three project-based learning days and one of the four days will be spent on a field trip. These field trips will take place within West Virginia and a few surrounding states such as the Pittsburgh Zoo and Carnegie Science Center. Dr. Stankus explained that they told teachers and staff to dream of the school you would love to have if money wasn’t an issue and “they have come up with some terrific ideas,” she noted. Each school has a variety of exciting project-based learning and field trips planned for the summer. For example, at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School, they’re going to learn how to build their own bicycle, according to Dr. Stankus. Buckhannon-Upshur High School students participating in the program will have the opportunity to learn how to build drones.
Dr. Stankus explained, with their funding, they’re also working with the County Commission to offer summer family pool passes, in addition to family passes for the West Virginia Wildlife Center. This is in effort to get families and kids out and about, and “away from the screen,” she noted. The Superintendent expressed that they want to keep money here in the county to invest in the children of Upshur County and encourage their families to be engaged in the community.
These efforts are “about wellness for our children and families,” Dr. Stankus expressed. “It is key to learning. Healthy people learn better. We believe in what we are doing,” she added. Students are not required but encouraged to attend each day of the summer learning academy. However, Dr. Stankus noted, “We are very flexible with our students and how they can attend.” The academy will run four days a week from 7:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
Former B-UHS Principal Mr. Eddie Vincent explained that the wellness component of his new job as Director of Child Wellness and Nutrition is what piqued his interest and encouraged him to take on this new role. Prior to serving as Principal, Mr. Vincent was a former Counselor and football coach.
Mr. Vincent explained that Upshur County Schools have been providing food boxes to families in Upshur County for over a year now, and for the first time, they’ll be providing 7-day food boxes during the 9 weeks throughout the summer. These will include seven meals for breakfast and seven for lunch, totaling 14 meals in each box. These meals also include juice and milk, which Mr. Vincent noted that Upshur is one of only two counties in the immediate area to provide milk and juice. “We are fortunate to have a countywide warehouse that has a cooler,” he expressed. Some parents have even informed Mr. Vincent that they haven’t had to buy any milk during the pandemic, thanks to the Board of Education providing that.
Throughout the pandemic, Multitude Foods in partnership with Upshur County Schools and A.F. Wendling, provided FedEx food to students’ doors that were fully remote or homeschooled. They delivered approximately 250 food boxes through this program. On average, Upshur County Schools served approximately 1,200-1,500 food boxes per week. They’re averaging approximately 200-500 5-day boxes currently. The 7-day meal boxes previously mentioned reportedly cost $34.50 per box; however, Upshur County Schools does receive reimbursement for each meal box distributed.
In addition to the Monday-Thursday hot meals provided at each school and 7-day boxes available each Wednesday at the warehouse, Upshur County Schools will also be providing meals to the Fred Eberle Technical Center and the Stockert Youth and Community Center.
Mr. Vincent is hopeful that these 7-day meal boxes will get students through the weekend as well. They have plans in the future to develop fruit and vegetable programs at each school, to help supplement in the schools’ kitchens. In this effort, they would also like to utilize local farmers. Rock Cave Elementary School has already implemented a grant funded high tunnel that is producing crops. Dr. Stankus and Mr. Vincent said they would like to see similar initiatives at each school.
“The ultimate goal is that no one goes hungry,” Mr. Vincent emphasized. If kids are eating well, physically fit, educated about nutrition, recovery and rest, they are more likely to perform better in school, he asserted. This initiative is to encourage overall health and well-being to not only the 3,800 students, but staff as well.
Dr. Stankus also mentioned that the Board of Education recently approved a “Wellness And Conditioning Coordinator” position to collaborate alongside Mr. Vincent to create better overall health for the students and staff of Upshur County. “It is more of a wellness and strength, and conditioning position,” Mr. Vincent emphasized. He also added that aside from Monongalia County having something similar several years ago, they will be the only county to provide this to students and staff.
When hiring for this position, Upshur County Schools is looking for someone that has a background in exercise science or any science field that provides knowledge about the human body and nutrition, as well as a background in mental health. Through this position and coordination with Mr. Vincent, the goal is to help Physical Education programs encourage kids to be healthier and more fit, especially athletes in grades 6 and up.
B-UHS is currently converting their balcony into a small-scale wellness center for staff and students. “At minimum, I would like to see treadmills and bikes available,” Mr. Vincent noted. He also added that there was an average 17 lb. weight gain for individuals during the pandemic. “We have more health problems with our more than ever,” he noted. Mr. Vincent also added that they need to do a better job at educating students and staff about wellness and fitness habits that will hopefully carry over generation after generation.
Commissioner Terry Cutright joked, “They learn more when their bellies are full. We learn that here in the Commission chambers.”
For more information regarding the Summer Learning Program or Summer Feeding Program, visit the Upshur County Schools website at https://www.upshurschools.com/ and/or contact Mr. Eddie Vincent.
In other business, Upshur County Development Authority (UCDA) Assistant Director Melodie Stemple also came before County Commissioners Thursday morning, seeking their signature for the Resolution of FY 22 Industrial Access Road Grant Funds. Commissioners approved Stemple’s request and the UCDA will submit the application and begin accepting bids for the completion of the road. Stemple noted that this road will provide access to the new businesses along Brushy Fork and will additionally provide a more conducive entrance for the Army National Guard.
Commissioners also went into a brief executive decision regarding a potential property acquisition. No decision was made during executive session and Commissioner Cutright made a motion to continue negotiating the potential property acquisition.
The next regular meeting of the Upshur County Commission will take place June 10, 2021.