By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
Energy Express is a six week long summer program established in 1995 to aid in children grades first through sixth in their reading and skills and nutrition education. This is a grant funded, emersion program partnering West Virginia University Extension Cooperative and AmeriCorps program. Being such, this means there is no fee associated with
participation, though slots are limited and fill up quickly. Jesica Streets, Tucker County Extension Agent serves as the county contact for the program, with Site Supervisor Christine Ward, TVEMS certified fourth grade teacher, along with Abigail Long, Community Coordinator.
Ward took the time to explain how the Energy Express program is set up utilizing several community facets to make it such a great success. Each site is assigned AmeriCorps Volunteers who serve as the mentors of the program. This year, the Tucker County Site, stationed at TCHS, was fortunate enough to receive eight of these young adults, each who are assigned up to eight students. Beginning at 8:30 a.m., the students go into their designated classes where they read alone, are read to, and read to someone else, preferably on a one to one basis. Each week there are different themes focusing on myself, family, friends, the home place, community, and making our world a better place. The week’s lesson and reading material are based on these topics and each student receives their own book on the topic each week to take home.
In addition to the reading portion of the day, students are also involved in drama and arts activities and non-competitive recreation. Students are served breakfast and lunch each day as well as bus transportation to specific stops to assist parents in getting their students to the high school thanks to the cooperation of the Tucker County Board of Education.
Ward began serving as a mentor in 1998 and is now serving as the site supervisor in our county. This is the second consecutive year for the program, though it has been in the area in the past. When asked if it is planned to be offered again next year, Ward responded, “Oh I hope so.” As of now, there is over 70 sites state wide. She mentioned that of all of her mentors, four are returning from last year and all but one are natives of Tucker County, yet all currently reside here.
This is Long’s first year serving as a volunteer and a Community Coordinator for the program. She learned about the opportunity from one of her teachers at Shepherd University where she is studying business and marketing. One of her top priorities to fulfill this position is to secure volunteers to do the one on one reading with the children as well as to set up assembly’s and events. “I love to plan things and organize events,” Long admitted. “The interaction with the kids is great,” she added. “I would love to do it again next year,” she said as she admitted to already having new plans and ideas she would like to implement.
Recently, Long coordinated a visit from a local bee keeper to explain the art of beekeeping to the kids as well as other local businesses sharing their trade. “We have a lot of talented people in our county and we want to highlight what they do,” Ward commented. “We’re very blessed that we have so many people who want to help these kids.”
As part of the mentors AmeriCorps requirements, they must perform three hundred community service hours. Participating in Energy Express allows for several opportunities for them to chisel away at those hours. For example, on July 9 at Mill Race Park from 2 to 4 p.m., the mentors partnered with the Family Resource Network for a Reading in the Park
event. Each volunteer set up a station throughout the park to provide reading and arts and crafts activities. The same event will take place at Knights of Columbus Pavilion on July 16 from 2-4 p.m. These events were made possible thanks to the City of Parsons and Knights of Columbus for their donation of the use of the locations to promote the program and support those working within it.
Showing off their creativity and talents, the mentors also recently chose eight local businesses and made a book box to set at each location. “My mentors are very creative,” Ward said. “They customized these boxes for the businesses so the kids can read while they eat their food.” Ward is also escorting the mentors to each of the three schools for a beautification project, attending Cortland Acres to read to the residents, and many other locations to serve as educational opportunities and community service projects.
For more information about the potential of participation in the 2020 Energy Express program, watch your child’s backpacks at the end of the school year for information to be sent home. You can also contact the Tucker County Extension Service next spring for information and deadline dates.