Mountaineer inspires kids to read

ELKINS- Michael Garcia, the West Virginia University Mountaineer mascot, read books to two classrooms of children participating in the Energy Express Program at Davis & Elkins College Wednesday.

Fairmont native Garcia, WVU’s 63rd Mountaineer, has already made more than 90 appearances in and around the state since April. On Wednesday morning he read the book “Scaredy Squirrel” to students in Elkins before heading to Tygarts Valley High School to read another book to the Energy Express students there.

Supervisor Linda Mullenax said, “I tried to get the Mountaineer to come last year but he was too busy. We’re really glad that he was able to make it this year.”

Students asked questions as they participated in the group reading session with Garcia, and some even got autographs from the new mascot.

With a strong history of family members that graduated from WVU, Garcia is currently in his senior year as a political science major and hopes to become a college professor.

He said he was inspired by his time spent interning with previous Mountaineer Natalie Tennant, now the West Virginia secretary of state, and by working in an office with Brock Burwell, also a past mascot, and the most recent former Mountaineer, Jonathan Kimble.

Collectively, Garcia said he will make nearly 300 appearances throughout the nation during the upcoming school year.

This week’s Energy Express theme was “friends” and Mullenax has contacted multiple community members to come read to the children

Energy Express is a summer program that helps close the legendary “summer learning gap” that often happens within communities.

Often those in rural or lower-income areas or families will not have as many chances to attend summer camps and other summer learning events, causing them to lose more of the information they learned during the school year, officials said.

Some students may also need extra assistance with reading and this program gives all those students equal, free opportunity to excel and learn during the summer under the guidance of educators, AmeriCorps members and volunteers.

Students are provided with two nutritious meals each day and can meet or enhance their reading level while making community friends and expressing themselves through art projects.

The program is currently in its third week, with the last day for events and activities Aug. 1. Until then, more community members, elected officials and high school teams will make appearances in the classrooms for group readings and to allow students to ask questions about their jobs and what they do.