FLATWOODS, W.Va. – Representatives of First Lady Cathy Justice’s office and the West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History spoke with students in the Communities in Schools program at Braxton County High School Thursday morning. About 80 students are participating this year in credit recovery programs, a higher-than-usual number, partly due to COVID. but staff there said that’s only a part of what they do.

“Really we do interventions for at-risk students, those who go through poverty, specific circumstances within their family, things that make it difficult for them to go through the learning process,” said Site Coordinator Tyler Cunningham.

Site Coordinator Tyler Cunningham works with a student

Cunningham said those problems are bigger than the immediate challenges students face. When students are not physically or mentally well, or are dealing with social issues at home, it makes it even harder for them to absorb the education their school is trying to provide. So the program aims to address those, too.

“If a child really has a severe problem, whether it be a health problem, or whether it be something related to hunger or clothing, we want to make sure that those basic needs are provided,” said Vicki Shannon, executive assistant to the First Lady.

It’s a program that’s in 26 states and the District of Columbia, and Shannon said both the First Lady and Governor Justice hope to see it expand from the 31 West Virginia counties it’s in now to all 55 by the end of the governor’s term. As for Cunningham, he’s seen the success happen firsthand.

Students hear from state officials

“We had somebody that was an extreme suicide risk, and we made all the interventions we could for him. He wanted to play in track. I got him shoes and we just saw this light click for him, and once he started to get back into sports, came back out of recovery, and was doing well, and me just making that contact with him on a regular basis, I spoke to him at least weekly just to check in on his health, you just saw such a huge change over time,” said Cunningham.

Shannon said although she couldn’t attend this week, the First Lady is visiting counties with Communities in Schools programs around the state the summer, and plans to return to Braxton County for a visit when the school year starts up in the fall.