FOLLANSBEE - While the classrooms of Jefferson Primary School were vacated several weeks ago by children departing for summer vacation, they have been filled again by others from throughout the county participating in a program aimed at promoting the value of reading, good nutrition and community service.
Since June 21, the Brooke County West Virginia University Extension Service has been conducting Energy Express, a five-week program for children in grades 1-6.
It is one of 81 programs, including two in Hancock County, being held by the WVU Extension Service in nearly every county of the state, said John Lyonett, a Brooke County teacher serving as site supervisor.
SHARING?A?GOOD?BOOK — Brooke County teacher Marcia Schwertfeger is among many guest readers who have read stories to children participating in the Energy Express program being held at Jefferson Primary School by the West Virginia University Extension Service.
He said parents throughout the school have given consent for 37 children to participate in the program, which aims to reinforce their reading skills during the summer break.
"We have children from almost all of the elementary schools (in Brooke County) and both middle schools," Lyonett said.
The number of participants is just shy of the 40 for which the program is designed, and it could be expanded to another site next year if there's sufficient interest, said Liz Gatts, a Brooke County WVU Extension agent involved with the program.
Alicia Cassels, the Brooke County WVU Extension agent involved last year, recently was named the Energy Express program's state director.
The program is funded by several public and private grants, with stipends paid to six mentors who involve the children in reading and various creative and recreational activities.
Lyonett said each week focuses on one of the following themes: Myself, Family, Friends, Home, Community and Making My World a Better Place. The children read books related to that theme and geared to their age group.
They include Barbara M. Jones' "Mama, Do You Love Me?," Verna Aardena's "Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain," Jeff Kinney's "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth," and Katherine Paterson's "Bridge to Terabithia.
Each week every child receives a book they can keep.
"Some of the kids who returned from last year, and one was saying, 'I got nine new books (through the program),'" Lyonett said.
High school and college students serving as mentors for the program read to each pupil or have each pupil read to them on a daily basis, Lyonett said.
They also involve the children in projects inspired by the theme, such as creating a life-size paper version of themselves for the Myself week or creating cardboard houses during the Home week.
Children in the Energy Express program also are involved in a community service project. This year the children at the Jefferson Primary School site and their leaders are collecting school supplies for students in families in need.
"We're hoping to collect at least five backpacks filled with school supplies for each Brooke County school," Lyonett said.
He and other Energy Express leaders collected materials at Follansbee Community Days and will accept them up to Wednesday at the the Brooke County Public Library during its regular hours and at Jefferson Primary School Monday through Wednesday from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Parents and all community members were invited to an open house Monday at which they viewed the children's various projects and learned about the program.
Brittany Kocher, a substitute teacher serving as the program's community coordinator, said the children enjoy showing their parents what they have created.
Children participating in the program also receive meals supplied by C.H.A.N.G.E. Inc. through a federal grant that's also being used to distribute lunches at local parks.
Lyonett said the meals offer an opportunity to teach the children about good nutrition.
Energy Express is funded by several state and private grants, with a stipend paid to the mentors through the federal AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America program.
Gatts expressed appreciation to state Del. Roy Givens, D-Brooke, who secured a $2,000 grant that has been used for materials for the program last year and this year; and the Brooke County Board of Education, which provided the school.
She added the program also benefits many volunteers who visit to read to the children and help in other ways.
Kocher said volunteers can help in various ways: by reading books to the children for short periods, helping with activities or simply washing dishes at lunch time.
The volunteers may be adults or youth entering the seventh grade or older.
Kocher said some of the volunteers are honors students at Brooke High School doing it to fulfill their community service requirement.
Anyone interested in volunteering may contact Kocher at (304) 527-2250 ext. 121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Scott can be contacted at email@example.com.)