Randolph BOE enters partnership

ELKINS — Schools in Randolph County will soon be seeing a mentor program introduced to their students and classrooms. The Randolph County Board of Education voted Tuesday to create a partnership with Appalachian Impact in hope of providing encouragement to students.

Justin Bowers, founder of the organization, explained the mission of Appalachian Impact is to promote hope for at-risk students in the region.

“There is no shortage of students who are at-risk,” he said. “The first thing that we do is one-to-one mentoring. So, we provide a caring adult — that ranges from, typically, a college student, all the way up to retirees — to at-risk students who are in the schools, elementary through high school.”

April Senic, director of special education for RCS, said the goal is to bring in student-athletes from Davis & Elkins College to act as “encouraging” mentors to younger students.

“Oftentimes we see, especially at the elementary level, if a student can just get that one-to-one time in the classroom — even if it is just 15 or 20 minutes a day — it is really encouraging for them to sit down to do an assignment,” she said. “They are also much more apt to ask a question of their mentor than they would be to ask as question of a teacher in a whole group setting.”

Scott Goddard, vice president for student affairs at D&E, said he believes lives are being changed because of the connections being made between students.

“We have seen some early success — I think there are some lives being changed by the connections that are being made between the college students and the local youth, so it has started and now we have to continue to build on it.

“One of the key tenets, if you will, of Division II athletes is service to the community, so they are getting service hours and really leading the way with service hours — I’m proud of the hours they put in. You may remember the first day of class, all of the athletes headed into downtown Elkins to do a community-wide clean up, and that’s what it’s all about, we’re all in this together and bit by bit we can make some progress,” Goddard continued. “It’s so rewarding from all angles. I hear from the college students, but I believe (Crystal Smithson, behavioral specialist for RCS) and others here have heard from the youth, and it’s just magical on both sides and fun to be a part of.”

Mentors will be invited to visit their student(s) during the school day.

“Mentors would visit during the school day, and the other piece of that is that the athletes will be inviting those students to come to D&E athletic events. So, they may be able to go to an athletic event and see their mentor at a basketball game, so it is kind of two-sided because they get to go to a game or something they maybe wouldn’t have done without that mentor piece in place,” Senic said.

Bowers also noted Appalachian Impact was founded as a faith-based non-profit organization, adding the group also offers summer camps to the youth as part of their outreach. He emphasized the organization respects the separation between church and state.

“We also do summer community camps … they focus a little bit more on the creative arts side; so, we usually have a creative arts camp and a literacy camp,” he said. “One of the things that I always try to say to the school personnel is we are a faith based organization, but that really comes into play specifically in our summer camps. Our mentors and our cohort leaders are trained and we highly respect the separation of church and state … we honor that.”

Senic added Appalachian Impact has been ongoing in Upshur County Schools, noting the county has seen success in the program.

“We partnered with Upshur County Schools about three years ago — we became an official partner,” Bowers said. “What that has done is several things. It has allowed us to partner with the school counselors to understand and identify where the students are at risk.”

Through Appalachian Impact, all mentors must undergo a background check; however, Superintendent Gabe Devono noted anyone who volunteers with the school system must also be subject to fingerprinting to be cleared to volunteer.