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Amy McMillan, the site coordinator for the Communities in Schools program at Buckhannon-Upshur High School. / Photo courtesy Amy McMillan

B-UHS’s new Communities in Schools facilitator Amy McMillan: ‘We are all connected’

BUCKHANNON – She’s a West Virginia native who’s worked in education systems in Colorado, Washington state and even Hawaii. But earlier this month, she found her place in one in her home state, right here in Upshur County.

During the Jan. 5, 2021 Upshur County Board of Education meeting, members unanimously approved hiring of Amy McMillan as the Communities in Schools Site Facilitator at Buckhannon-Upshur High School following the resignation of Katy Ross.

The Communities in Schools program presented Upshur County Schools a grant for $384,000 in 2020 for use in Buckhannon Academy Elementary, Buckhannon-Upshur Middle and Buckhannon-Upshur High schools.

The program was spearheaded by West Virginia First Lady Cathy Justice and helps meet the needs of students and families by placing someone in the school to coordinate that effort and to reach out to communities so socioeconomic barriers students face can be removed.

Following the presentation of funding last summer during an Upshur County BOE meeting, members hired Krista Sappey as CIS Facilitator at Buckhannon Academy Elementary School and Dr. Justin Bowers as the CIS Facilitator at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School. McMillan will serve as the new CIS Facilitator at Buckhannon-Upshur High School.

My Buckhannon reached out to McMillan to find out more about why she wanted to join the B-UHS crew and what her goals were as she leads B-UHS Students and the Upshur County community into the future.

McMillan said she was inspired to apply as the CIS Facilitator at B-UHS because of her desire to empower others.

“I wanted to work doing something to empower people, and so that means providing the supports for our students and families by working with our community, students, families and school as a whole,” McMillan said. “As they would say in Hawaii, [when you work] together as one big ‘ohana’ (family), nobody gets left behind. With the needed supports ‘all’ our students will have an opportunity to bloom, stay engaged, identify their own strengths and passions in life from the seeds of knowledge our teachers plant and inspire, and through connected relationships within the community they call home.”

In accomplishing these goals, McMillan said she has many qualities that make her the ‘perfect fit’ for this facilitator position.

“Patience, persistence and gratitude,” she said. “I guess you could say that I have always had an interest in working with and developing relationships with other people of all ages. In high school and college, I used to volunteer as a summer camp counselor with the West Virginia Governor’s Youth Opportunity Camp for kids to give them experiences many never got an opportunity to experience. That was so rewarding to watch someone bloom from a sense of who they really are when opportunities are opened up to them.”

Most recently, while working with schools on three Hawaiian Islands, McMillan said she was working through the McKinney-Vento Act with families who were experiencing homelessness.

“Hawaii had been the number one per capita highest homeless population of all the states, and I worked with the communities and schools to remove barriers that otherwise caused many students to experience failure in school or to drop out,” she said. “When the pandemic started, I also had an opportunity helping set up an Emergency COVID-19 Tiny Home Village Shelter for the elderly (Kupuna) who were experiencing homelessness and needed a place to ‘shelter in place.’”

McMillan said she is a strong believer in people’s capacity to care for one another.

“This position offered me the opportunity to be that liaison or connection, [to help] the schools, students, families and community to all find ways to come together,” McMillan said. “This coordinator position is a perfect fit for me because it is what I know, what I love to do and what drives me to work together for the success of our students and community.”

The aspect McMillan said she most looks forward to is getting to know the students and their families, the staff and the Upshur County community members.

“I really want input from folks so that we have a clear idea of what we need to do to support our students to be successful and what resources we have available in the area,” McMillan said. “I want to see real connections being made, challenges overcome and ultimately students having not only the tools and resources they need, but also an understanding and belief in themselves to hang in there, graduate and have an understanding of their options for their future and a plan to get them there.”

She said during this pandemic, with its constant change, people need to understand that we are all in this together.

“I realize that sometimes the stresses of the times can push us into our primitive ‘fight or flight’ brain and make us look for who to blame or what to blame,” McMillan said. “In meeting individually and in groups with teachers, counselors and our administrative team, their main concern has been how to adjust to keep students from falling through the cracks with all the changes in their educational programming during this pandemic.

“They are having to manipulate, problem-solve and retrain to coordinate the balance between what they can do now and policies set before a pandemic ever occurred, all while creating ways to make things flow as smoothly as they can,” she added. “Often, they navigate this with little time to anticipate what changes may occur on short notice as we all watch for the colors from red, orange, yellow or green to morph into another stage.”

McMillan said from her vantage point, she wants students and families to know assistance is available.

“I look forward to being a part of such a student-focused effort with you all in the school and in our community,” she said. “Please feel free to contact me at B-UHS if you would like to share ideas, resources or feedback that may assist me in working together with you all in our community in support of our students and the school. I am looking forward to getting to know and problem solve with you all. Stay safe, care for your neighbor – we are all connected.”

McMillan said she grew up just outside of New Martinsville, West Virginia along Doolin Creek where she spent her childhood playing in the hills and creek. She graduated from Marshall University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree, and West Virginia University where she earned her master’s degree. Later, she attended the University of Phoenix in Colorado where she received her endorsement area for principals/administration.

“I have two grown children and my parents still live in New Martinsville,” she said. “I have had the good fortune to have worked with schools in West Virginia, Colorado, Washington and Hawaii. I have taught from preschool through college-level students and recently returned from living in the tiny rainforest village of Volcano, Hawaii on the summit area of Kilauea to move back to West Virginia to work and be near family.”

McMillan said people ask her why she moved back to West Virginia from Hawaii.

“Sometimes you can lose track of time in a place like Hawaii, but with something like the pandemic, we are reminded about what is important,” she said. “It is time to come back and spend time near family again and finding a position I am passionate about made that possible.”

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