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Educators try holistic approach

WEST UNION, W.Va. — More factors than the quality of educational materials and facilities need to be considered for a student to have their best chance to succeed, the superintendent of schools in Doddridge County said.

It is necessary to take care of the child’s safety, as well as their emotional and physical well beings for them to flourish during their academic career, Adam Cheeseman said.

“If we take care of the kids like that, we will see the academic results,” he said.

The county’s holistic education approach strives to educate students about much more than standard math or English, Cheeseman said.

According to schooldigger.com, a website that uses data from the U.S. Department of Education, West Virginia Department of Education and the National Center for Education Statistics, something has righted the path of the school system in Doddridge County. Through the 2013-14 school year, Doddridge County continued to follow a long trend by finishing in the 50th percentile for test scores. During the 2017-2018 school year, they finished fifth in the state.

Cheeseman said the first thing that needs to be taken care of is the student’s physical well being; focusing on making sure the child has an adequate amount of food during the day.

“Our child nutrition program far exceeds other programs in the state,” he said.

Besides serving free breakfast and lunch to every student in the system, an afternoon snack is provided to make sure they have the energy to make it through the day and evening. He also said they take care of food for as many as 250 students when they are not in school with the help of Salem IGA.

“We send a bag of groceries home every weekend with them,” Cheeseman said.

He said he believes the county is making strides helping a student’s mental health as well.

“I do believe we are ahead of the curve here,” he said.

“Our students are exposed and have to confront things at a quick pace,” said Jeremy Waugaman, mental health specialist and coordinator for the county’s school system.

Hired in 2016 as the lone mental health specialist, his department has expanded by hiring three other specialists and a full time social worker to help the students of Doddridge County. He said identification of a student who is suffering from mental health issues begins with the teachers that interact with them daily.

“We train our staff to know the signs and symptoms of trauma,” he said.

Waugaman said actions taken will be determined by the student’s needs, with a final goal of making sure they can receive an education through the problems they are facing.

“We want them to be able to walk into a classroom with whatever baggage they have and still be able to learn the lesson being taught,” he said.

He said students who get help also will point their friends to people who can help them with their problems.

“Teens connect with each other better than with adults,” he said. “We want to try and reduce the stigma around mental health.”

The safer a child feels reflects in greater test scores, Cheeseman said. With Public Resource Officers stationed at every school in the county, Cheeseman said he hoped positive interactions between the officers and students will instill trust with figures of authority.

Cheeseman said the success of the school system and the implementation of the holistic program couldn’t have been done without the backing of everyone with Doddridge County Schools.

“We are living in a community that has continued to make education a top priority,” he said. “You’ve got to have buy-in from the entire county for it to work.”

Chad Adkins can be reached at cadkins@newsandsentinel.com.

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