Upshur residents share education ideas

The Inter-Mountain photos by Amanda Hayes Residents share ideas about education reform during a round table discussion during a forum at Buckhannon-Upshur High School.

TENNERTON — Prior to the West Virginia Legislature gathering in Charleston for a special session on education, a forum was held at Buckhannon-Upshur High School with local stakeholders and a few legislators.

Increasing mental health services, drug counseling for students and families, retaining quality teachers and providing trained law enforcement in schools are some of the ideas being discussed statewide that were also brought up in the forum.

Members of the Buckhannon-Upshur High School Youth in Government organization hosted the forum.

A large part of the forum was devoted to round table discussion that ended with the groups presenting what they learned.

Brent Kimble, advisor for Youth Leadership Association, said, “The reason we are all here is because the fact is every single person in this room whether you are a current student, a soon-to-be graduate, a parent, a community member or a stakeholder, we all know the value of education and how important it is to the success of our society and to the furthering of our futures.”

One of the questions asked of the groups was what would be the most beneficial to improving the school system and increasing student achievement.

Student Kristin Young said her group discussed that some teachers lack credentials or qualifications to be teaching what they are in the classroom for.

Second, they discussed that “increasing teacher pay will create a more competitive market in West Virginia and encourage more young people to seek jobs as teachers.”

The group also discussed motivating students.

“They are not motivated to do anything and when teachers aren’t necessarily teaching the material with motivation, that reflects on the students and makes them less likely to be interested in the subject,” she said. “If our teachers are being more engaging with students than that can encourage kids to do better in the class.”

Teacher pay and better benefits for teachers as a way to encourage educators was also discussed along with the fact that standardized testing should not be the only measure of student worth.

“Having law enforcement officers such as [Cpl. Rocky Hebb] we have here, it helps the students and teachers feel safer in the environment they are in and increasing the number of student support professionals — people students can go to if they feel they need help,” Young said.

One suggestion was a $2,000 stiped to certified math instructors.

“A bonus will help encourage people who have math degrees to be an educator and help our students do better,” she said.

Caitlyn Wendling said her group discussed that, “We place too much emphasis on college-bound students and not all students are going to college.”

They also chose two reasons for the biggest impediment to improving public schools.

“We believe that the biggest impediment to improving our public schools are poverty and societal problems and the lack of resources to account for that as well as overregulation of our schools,” she said. “Too much testing, too little flexibility in our curriculum. We said that too much power is given to school boards that are too high up to understand the needs of individual counties and schools.”

Sen. Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur, attended the forum and said there would be a tough process for the special session.

“I don’t think we are going to finalize this bill until after June 15,” he said. “That’s just my opinion.”

Hamilton said he received advice early in his legislature career about doing his due diligence.

“I assure you that my vote in the May special session will be a yes for improving the learning process for all public school students, not just for a few,” he said.

Del. Caleb Hanna, R-Nicholas, said the forum was an eye-opening experience for him but he had been to nine forums.

“While charter schools and [educational savings accounts] are definitely the controversial part of this conversation, I ask that we don’t let it dominate the conversation,” he said. “I want to know what we can also do beyond that to help move our students forward.”

Del. Cody Thompson, who is a teacher in Randolph County Schools, said he graduated from Harman High School with 20 students in his class.

Now teaching civics at a larger school, Thompson said he sees his students struggle daily with problems they are facing at home and with issues caused by the opioid epidemic.

“I see my students struggle daily with not just issues they are facing, with emotional and behavioral problems at home but also at school. I see issues with the opioid epidemic,” Thompson said.

“I would like to see more emphasis placed on attracting the best and brightest teachers to our state,” he said. “You are going to be our future and I want the absolute best for you and all students.”