OAK HILL — A different method of delivery will be utilized, but the long-held mission of nurturing local school children during the summer will remain the same.

WVU Extension Service's Energy Express, supplemented by partners like AmeriCorps and Southern Appalachian Labor School, is poised to engage its 2020 program.

Energy Express is a summer reading and nutrition program which promotes the school success of West Virginia children, mainly those from rural and low-income communities. Mentors, site supervisors and volunteers work with children to maintain or enhance their reading levels via art, drama, vocabulary and other activities. This summer's effort of making sure local school children aren't left behind academically will be staged with a new twist — under guidelines established by state and local health officials due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Thursday, June 11 at the SALS Historic Oak Hill School, training was held for individuals involved in Energy Express at two Fayette County locations. Mentors and supervisors arrived in Oak Hill to introduce themselves to each other, discuss rules and regulations that will govern the program, and talk over plans for reaching the children and their families this summer.

Statewide online training was to continue on Friday, June 12, and participants were slated to take part in STEM training on June 15. While training is currently under way, the program for children will officially begin on June 22.

Tia Jackson, the WVU Extension site supervisor for Energy Express at the Southern Appalachian Labor School in Beards Fork, and Alma Logan, site supervisor for the Scarbro team at SALS Historic Oak Hill School, were among those gathered Thursday for training. In her third year as a site supervisor, Jackson explained the process which will be utilized to deliver the local Energy Express program this summer.

Lessons will distributed to the students virtually and/or remotely, as opposed to at a central location, Jackson said. AmeriCorps members and site supervisors will seek to create activities for children to complete at home.

"We're trying to implement YouTube videos" to possibly model writing activities, Jackson noted.

Officials will be "trying to also go out into the community and deliver care packages. Those will be sent out weekly and will have the lesson plans, materials for the weekly activities, the weekly book and our newsletter, and some information about the feeding sites, as well," said Jackson. All of those activities will be performed in an approved manner using proper social distancing etiquette.

Another possible endeavor will be pop-up activities. "We like to do those weekly, and that's basically coming to a specific area in the community, like a public park or maybe an apartment complex that has a lot of our children, and doing a pop-up read-aloud where we read a book to them, maybe dressed in character, or do some type of physical activity where they can get some movement," Jackson said.

The Beards Fork site usually attracts from 25 to 30 students. "But I'm hoping we can get more since it's more virtual." Such a scenario could benefit more students than normal, since it would give them access to learning options such as Scholastic's Literacy Pro program, which allows access to a large number of book titles for independent reading. "They can pick the book based on their interest level and reading level, and they can meet goals for the week as far as how long and often they want to read," she said.

Another possibility is for Energy Express representatives to be able to deliver more books to the children as the summer progresses.

Children in homes without digital access may still participate, Jackson stressed. The lesson plans will include activities "that they can complete at home without internet."

Mentors will be responsible for distributing care packages, meals, lesson plans and other materials as needed. They will also be in contact with families through phone calls or other types of follow-up.

Jackson, for one, feels Energy Express is very important during the current health crisis.

"Many of our students haven't been in school since March," she said. "Taking into account those students that were already struggling readers and that were behind, and maybe they've been at home and haven't had access to use the resources that we sent home, so they're really struggling.

"This program is more important now than ever. I'm so glad we were able to figure out a system to still have the program this summer and offer those resources to the students in the community."

Contact SALS at 304-779-2280 or 304-465-9732 or your local WVU Extension Service agent to obtain more information about Energy Express.

Email: skeenan@register-herald.com or follow on Twitter @gb_scribe

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