Improving Our Schools

Editor, News-Register:

I am writing this open letter to impress on our West Virginia Legislature that they need to bring families, teachers, and school personnel to the table to create a really beneficial educational reform bill. The people working the plan need to help create the plan and take ownership in making the plan work.

The legislature needs to remember that they are elected officials who are there to represent their constituents. Government is “for the people, by the people.” The families and school personnel have different experiences, training, and knowledge that could be put to great use in shaping our future schools.

I’d like to mention a few things that I feel need to be taken into consideration in making educational reform plans in our state to include the fact that West Virginia is in the middle of an opioid crisis. Now, you’re thinking Ohio County is not the worst off of the counties in handling this crisis, but I want to mention that we have six juvenile residential facilities here in Ohio County. Over 200 children from counties throughout West Virginia are coming through those facilities every year. Some of these children have experienced extreme situations of abuse, neglect, poverty, family addictions, family legal issues, serious family illnesses and deaths. Some of it is truly unbelievable. If I didn’t work directly with it, I wouldn’t believe some of it myself.

We are being directly affected everywhere in West Virginia by the opioid crisis. The students trying to pick up the pieces of this devastating crisis are in our schools. We need resources so this cycle can be broken.

Without mentioning names, a few years ago I encountered a young man who had many behavior and mental issues. He was around age 16 at that time. I learned that when he was very young, approximately age 3, he was found with the corpse of his dead mother who had overdosed. Shocking, but true. He had been shuffled in and out of various facilities and foster homes for over 10 years. He had very little trust in people or the system. There but for the grace of God go I. I’m not sure that any of us would be handling the circumstances he was faced with in much better ways than he was. If it was you, what resources do you think you might need to cope with those circumstances?

The point I want to make is, regardless of how much the education system is there to instruct students on reading, writing, and math, students in crisis and trauma situations often need to address the mental health stuff so they can focus on the educational component. He is just one student. There are many other students trying to pick themselves up after being dealt the hand of growing up in situations of abuse, neglect, poverty, family addictions, family legal issues, serious family illnesses and deaths.

We need more mental health resources for our students and families. I’ve worked in public education for 26 years. I’ve been here long enough to know that the cycles continue until someone in it can get enough education and help to say, “no more,” to the dysfunctional cycle. People want to be happy. Most people want to be productive. People just need tools and resources to make changes and better their lives. We need more mental health resources for our students.

In other matters, I have worked also with many young people who have been extremely successful with the career and technical programs at Wheeling Park High School. Wheeling Park High School offers various career and technical classes to include small engines, carpentry, pre-engineering, welding, auto shop, auto body, culinary, graphic design, therapeutic services, computers, early childhood education, business, and more.

Did you know those career and technical programs at Wheeling Park High School are simulated work programs? Students have to interview to get into those hands on programs. They create businesses at Wheeling Park High School. They hold jobs in their businesses there. They do and create various hands-on projects. They have random drug testing, too, just like they may have in the real work world. I have seen students complete those programs, graduate high school, and leave high school job-ready. More than once, I have seen students at age 18 graduate Wheeling Park High School and be hired on directly for jobs making $80,000 or more a year, with no student loans to worry about. I feel more funding should be going in to these career and technical classes on the middle school and high school levels.

I bet, if legislators would actually come out to visit the students and school, they would get the same information from the them. Furthermore, I am sure there are other best practices going on across the state in all subjects and on all grade levels.

I could go on, but the bottom line is: West Virginia Legislature, please include families and school personnel in any future educational reform legislative bills. We have lots of great input and ideas if you take the time to ask us and really listen. I hope that all of the elected representatives in our West Virginia Legislature will work to include the students, families, and school personnel in their future legislative bills. If we want different results, we must do things differently.

Erin Bowers



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