CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I have never experienced a situation like the one I had teaching agriculture experiments at Piedmont Elementary School on Charleston's East End. It was such a humbling experience, and I learned a lot.
The school was still under a water alert from the chemical spill a month earlier. They had a room full of bottles of water for the cafeteria, and the students were given a bottle each day which they carried with them.
As I walked in I looked left and saw the "Clinic." Each time I went in four to six students were getting care from a full-time nurse. They have a full-time social worker. The police stopped by throughout the week. The Defending Childhood Initiative alerts staff of a "handle with care notice" if police are called to the home of a student, giving staff the opportunity to be apprised of what needs the child may have. Many of the students live in shelters, group homes or subsidized housing developments.
Additionally, the school has a high proportion of low-income students, qualifies for Title I and receives free and reduced meals for 80 percent of students.
The school offers "Third Base" after-school care until 6 p.m. Children are given a snack before going home.
There is a NASA Explorer School where they can do video conferencing with NASA and the astronauts. The nearby Clay Center offers free after school music lessons in drums, guitar and piano. Students give a recital at the end of the term.
The school has a "Routes to Schools" program to promote walking and biking to school for better health and fitness. Many parents have no transportation; thus the kids walk everywhere and have not been beyond the downtown atmosphere.
The school sends food home on Friday for the weekends.
As many students have no home support, after school tutoring is available as well as morning tutoring. A group of local attorneys and accountants provide generous after-school tutor/mentoring sessions in a program called "Elevators Mentoring."
Fifth-grade teachers are diligently trying to raise enough money to take the fifth-graders to Disney World this spring. I hope they can convince all the parents that it is OK for their children to experience this adventure.