Summer reading program in Paw Paw won
After 13 years of Energy Express at Paw Paw Elementary, the eight-week reading and nutrition program won't be available to children this summer.
The aim of Energy Express is to give both nutritious meals and reading practice to rural, lower-income children.
Without such a program, struggling students can lose academic momentum over the summer and be behind when the next school year starts, said Susan Waugh of the WVU Extension office. Waugh handles the administration of Energy Express in Morgan County.
She also said Energy Express sometimes provides the only balanced meals the children will get during the day.
The problem in retaining Energy Express at Paw Paw School is not money, however.
Shortage of mentors
Instead, there is a shortage of mentors for the program in Paw Paw, said Waugh.
In previous years, the Extension office had until early summer to locate mentors, who have to be enrolled college students, for the AmeriCorps program. This year, those mentors had to be located and hired by March, said Waugh.
Each Energy Express site has to have five mentors in order to serve students during the eight-week summer session.
Last year, state AmeriCorps administrators let Paw Paw operate with only three mentors, a volunteer coordinator and site coordinator. Even with the smaller staff, the program fed and mentored 24 elementary students.
Not so this year.
Morgan County will have only one Energy Express site – at Warm Springs Middle School. Five mentors, a volunteer coordinator and site coordinator will work with 48 elementary students, providing them a nutritious breakfast and lunch and immersing them in an environment that emphasizes reading and writing.
Tough job requirements
The requirements for Energy Express mentors are rigorous. College students have to commit to training and a community service project on top of daily group activities with elementary-age students.
Because Energy Express is considered a service program, mentors receive a minimal living stipend that's below an hourly wage they can earn elsewhere.
They can make more money flipping burgers, Waugh told the Morgan County school board at their February 5 meeting.
Mentors also earn a $1,000 educational credit that they can apply to college tuition, books or student loans once they've completed their service.
Waugh said she's very disappointed that such a long-standing summer program won't be operating for students this summer.
Paw Paw Elementary was one of the first Energy Express sites in West Virginia, working with students just a year after the program started statewide. The reading program now operates at 78 sites in 41 counties.
Funding for the program comes through the Morgan County Commission, the school levy and from matching donations from local businesses and individuals. Last year, the two Energy Express programs had a budget of $76,500. Of that budget, $7,900 was raised locally for services to Paw Paw students.