BUCKHANNON – New Upshur Stars were introduced to county school system’s galaxy last week during the Upshur County Board of Education’s meeting Tuesday.
Eddie Vincent, director of wellness and child nutrition for Upshur County Schools, introduced school counselors at the Upshur BOE’s Feb. 23 meeting and asked them to present what services have been provided to students since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Upshur County School Superintendent Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus also gave a ‘big shout out’ to all the counselors for their work.
“We have had some very serious challenges; certainly, the social and emotional well-being of our students is at the forefront of what we do,” Stankus shared. “I just wanted to say thank you publicly to this group of people.”
Vincent said the school counselors had to deal with a number of crises.
“They have performed home visits, they have taken food to students and they have done a great job of checking up on the students,” Vincent said. Vincent went on to say the counselors would give a brief overview of what has been going on at all levels – elementary, middle school and high school since last March.
Suzanne Bowman, counselor at Tennerton and Hodgesville Elementary Schools, said so much of what the counselors do depends on relationships.
“As counselors, we have to spend 80 percent of our time in direct services with kids,” Bowman shared. “Direct services means collaboration with teachers or we meet with kids for short-term counseling. We all have different components. We also teach in the classrooms on a regular basis.”
Ashley Woody, counselor at Union and Washington District Elementary Schools, explained what counselors do while teaching in the classrooms.
“We teach the Second Step Curriculum, which is a social and emotional learning [program] for our pre-K through fifth-grade students,” Woody said. “We have been doing that face to face when we can get into the classrooms and via Teams and Schoology. It ties into our student success standards which is required by the state – it meets skills for empathy, skills for learning, conflict management and problem solving. The great thing about it is a virtual component for families. We can send it home and parents can access those online at well.”
Woody said this program fits in with PAX, the scientific-evidence-based “good behavior game.”
Larry Lance, counselor at French Creek and Rock Cave Elementary Schools, said they utilize the PAX program, which is a behavior management system that started two years ago.
“What PAX does is provides consistency and routine for the kids,” Lance said. “It gives teachers tools they can use to help manage behavior. It also develops positive relationships in the school, and we have noticed our behavior discipline issues have decreased by 20 percent. It’s working and kids know what to expect.”
Other duties Lance said the counselors undertake are help with are coordinating Red Ribbon Week, Career Day and the Kindness Challenge.
“We help with Human Growth and Development and we help with Rachel’s Challenge,” Lance said.
Kirsten Coit-Fetty, counselor for Buckhannon Academy Elementary School, said in March when the pandemic began, most of the counselors were involved in food distribution.
“At the elementary level, we kept up with our students via Teams and we developed a weekly newsletter geared toward elementary level families,” Coit-Fetty reported. “In September, using Schoology, we were able to resume our lessons. We also started producing our own lessons.”
Coit-Fetty said one of the largest changes for them this year is the amount of home visits or well child checks they have done.
“We have been doing home visits which are really porch or front yard visits,” she said. “We have done more than 100 since September.”
Jennifer Arisman, social and emotional support specialist for PALS, said every morning she checks in with three students to see how they are doing.
“I do play therapy, counseling with them each week and I can help with any self-regulating activities if there is a crisis,” Arisman said.
At the middle school level, Counselor Lauren Pavlic said she and fellow Counselor Tanya Zickefoose said they provide the current 795 students at B-UMS their services.
“We are available to all students and that helps because we are available right then and there,” Pavlic said.
Zickefoose said they try to build the program and services they provide based on what kids say they need.
“We had input from 96 percent of our students by doing a student needs assessment,” Zickefoose said. “We asked the students about what they need to receive to be a better person. It helps us decide the curriculum to provide and what other services to provide. It helped us decide who is in need of our backpack program services.”
Pavlic said during the pandemic, at the middle school level, they continue to do advisor lessons.
“We are doing weekly updates on Schoology to remind students we are still here if they need us,” Pavlic said. “We also have a staff wellness letter because our staff are struggling, too.”
Zickefoose said they have formed an at-risk committee.
“We look at students from every angle to figure out who needs what from us and how we can best support our kids,” Zickefoose said. “Some of the things we have done with our at-risk students is provide backpacks. About 100 of our at-risk students and their families were able to get a special holiday backpack program with a ham, a bag of potatoes, fruits and veggies. We gave every student a new backpack, a hat, new gloves and a scarf. We delivered these to our students and families.”
B-UHS Counselor Anthony McDaniels said they have been making sure students are registered for tests and doing academic triage.
“We were able to help kids get through some of the classes they struggled with first semester,” McDaniels said.
Social/emotional learning specialist Wilson Harvey said his department has been making calls to families to see if students will be staying in school or attending remotely and checking on student concerns brought to their attention.
“When one-on-one attention is needed with a home visit, we arrange them with a triage list provided by teachers where there are concerns,” Harvey said. “We make sure students have the proper care and follow-up they need.”
Harvey said they have done family orientations, full-time remote material drop-offs and pickups. He said they work with the PALS students to assure they have what they need.
“We are trying to build on student engagement,” Harvey said.
Susan McCoy, B-UHS Counselor, said they are working with students and found some students are working at jobs during their traditional school day.
“Some students are working plus trying to keep up with their schoolwork,” McCoy said. “We have been maintaining and announcing the school scholarships, so students getting ready to graduate and their families can access those and submit their scholarship information.”
McCoy said they have held student information sessions on FAFSA, student scholarships, PROMISE information and others.
“We help with letters of recommendation for our students for their college applications,” McCoy said. “We coordinate and assist for ASFAB military testing, SAT and PSAT testing and we recently started working on our Awards Ceremony.”
McCoy said B-UHS had an early graduation on Feb. 3 for 18 students.
Shauna Jones, B-UHS Dean of Students, said she feels counseling is one of the most-needed parts of coping with the pandemic – for both teachers and students.
“We need to hold each other up during this pandemic,” Jones stressed. “We have talented teachers that have taught for years – they come in our office and close the door because they doubt themselves. We have to remind them it is not them; it is this unfortunate situation we are in.”
Jones said they are working to build relationships with students as well.
“We don’t get to see them all face-to-face but we collaborate with them on Schoology and on phone calls and Teams Meetings. Some of our students are working and we see them working at Walmart or C.J. Maggie’s, and we keep encouraging them. One of our most important points of collaboration is with you as parents, as families and as community – I want to say thank you on behalf of all of Upshur County Schools for your patience and grace as we continue to figure out how to maintain relationships with each other and to push through to the other side. Thank you for that.”
BOE member Dr. Greenbrier Almond said he was formerly a psychiatrist.
“I would love to have a picture with these young professionals,” Almond said.
Jodie Akers, director of attendance and transportation, and Stephanie Bennett, transportation supervisor, also introduced Upshur County Schools Transportation members who were recognized as Upshur Stars.
Akers said several transportation staff members, who were all new employees, would be recognized including transportation custodian Carrie Lee.
“Custodians are responsible for more than just cleaning the floors, wiping the tables and hitting the lights at the end of the day,” Akers said. “They are our first line of defense against this virus we have been battling.”
Akers thanked Lee for being fearless.
“This year has been very uncertain, yet you put on your gloves and mask and put everyone’s health before your own and you show up every single day,” Akers said. “Thank you for your dedication. We all know what the floor of our transportation department looks like after our runs, but you dive in head-first time and time again. Thank you for being so caring. You go above and beyond your job description every day, quietly watching over our needs and making sure nothing is out of place.”
Akers thanked Lee for being a role model.
“Thank you for getting our department ready for visitors, for always saying hello, for always being ready to lend a helping hand and most importantly, for caring for your colleagues,” Akers said. “Thank you for all of your hard work you do for our transportation department. We think you are the best.”
The next Upshur Star to light up the room during Tuesday’s BOE meeting was Diana Moore who is the attendance secretary for Upshur County Schools.
“What makes a great secretary?” Akers asked. “Being able to effectively communicate, being organized and detail-oriented, being the gatekeeper, providing a smile while answering the phone and greeting our visitors – you never let on how bad the day can be.”
Akers said Moore keeps up-to-date on her skills, is willing to learn new skills, is open discussions and provides solutions.
“You present yourself professionally, follow through efficiently and quickly with tasks you are asked to do,” Akers said. “We want to express our sincere gratitude for the work she has accomplished during her first year with Upshur County Schools. Diana, you take on our challenges and are always willing to learn. Thank you for your positive attitude and dedication. We are truly blessed to have you on our team.”
The final group to receive Upshur Stars and be recognized by the Upshur County BOE included five Upshur County School Bus Operators – Rick Dunlap, Ronnie Miller, Scott Preston, Cliff Turner and Matthew Wamsley.
“We would like to recognize our new bus operators this year,” Akers said. “I want to say thank you to all our seasoned bus operators who continue to provide our new bus drivers with support, leadership and positive role models. We could not do this without our entire team. We are so blessed.”
Akers said being a good bus driver means being able to value a wide variety of personality types and maintain safety standards because nothing is more important than the safety of kids.
“Driving a school bus is much different than driving a car,” Akers said. “[It involves] obeying the rules of the road and knowing how a bus needs to be handled in situations like snowy roads.”
Akers said bus drivers are the bridge between school and home and said they are the first and last faces kids see each day.
“A great bus driver feels a sense of pride in their job,” Akers said. “Welcome and thanks for being a part of our team. We are blessed to have you.”