PRATT — Gov. Jim Justice traveled to three of the highest-vaccinated schools across West Virginia on Wednesday, presenting students and staff at each school with a $50,000 check as winners in the West Virginia Department of Education's I Got Vaxxed competition.

The winning schools announced Wednesday included Pratt Elementary School in Kanawha County, as well as Hurricane High School in Putnam County and Hite Saunders Elementary School in Cabell County.

Justice was joined by his pet English Bulldog, Babydog, for the mid-week award ceremonies.

In his remarks to the staff and students at the PK-5 school, Justice outlined a little of the history of the competition and praised the school. "You won, so way to go," he said. "I'm so happy for all of y'all. Pratt Elementary, you just won $50,000."

Pratt Principal Jackie Hersch said she and the school community are "very excited" with the financial good fortune. Recounting entering the contest on behalf of the school, Hersch said the prize award was based on a percentage of eligible Covid-19 vaccinations in the school (from 28 full-time staff members). "So we're at about 99 percent vaccinated with our staff here," she said. "I just think that they felt the importance of taking care of themselves and their families, and getting vaxxed back to a normal school life. I think that was the drive behind it."

Vaccinations help protect those who aren't eligible for the vaccine, she said.

The initial outlay from the $50,000 will be directed toward purchasing an outdoor marquee for school and community purposes. "The first thing we plan to buy will be an electronic school marquee to put out in front of the school, and that will serve the school and the community," said Hersch.

According to a press release from Justice's office, some of the other upcoming projects could include a cover for the sidewalk from the parking lot to the front door, as well as a "down area" for students to go when they feel the need.

Justice told the students that he understands that dealing with masks in the school has "been really tough." And, he discussed his worries about state residents becoming ill from Covid-19.

An oversized, facsimile check for $50,000 aside, the star of the day was the governor's and his wife, Cathy's, bulldog, Babydog. "She makes everybody smile," said Justice. "Now, that's really important right now with all this pandemic and all the stuff we've been through. ... She loves everybody.

"Shouldn't that be what we're all really trying to do?" That question received a resounding chorus of yeses from the students.

Following the ceremony, those who wanted to got the chance to pet Babydog, and some posed for photos with the governor and his dog.

The I Got Vaxxed competition was announced by Justice and the WVDE to encourage eligible school-aged children, faculty and staff to get a Covid-19 vaccine. Through the competition, a total of 12 public and private schools — four elementary schools, four middle schools and four high schools — with the largest percentage of eligible vaccinated staff and students will each win $50,000 to use for activities or initiatives which will improve the student experience. To encourage full participation, students were polled to have input on how they would like the funds to be used.

A total of 77 public and private schools entered the competition, and all submitted vaccination data was verified by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources to identify the winners. At least one winning school in each category is a private school.

Additional winning schools announced over the past week include:

• Andrew Jackson Middle School

• Elkview Middle School

• Geary Elementary & Middle School

• Morgantown Learning Academy

• Mountaineer Montessori

• Charleston Catholic High School

The remaining I Got Vaxxed competition winners will be announced soon, according to a press release from Justice's office.

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

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