4-H Program Moves Full STEAM Ahead at West Side Elementary School

Students at Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary School in Charleston are helping to guide their own science-based lessons and activities with a new after-school initiative led by the West Virginia State University (WVSU) 4-H program. Extension agents are working with grades K-5 to offer STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) programs based on the needs and wants identified by students themselves.

“Our goal is to facilitate engaging experiences through hands-on activities, inquiry and dedicated mentorship,” said WVSU Extension Agent Molly Sterling. “One way we achieve that is by asking the students what they want to do with us.”

This differs from traditional approaches, in which predetermined lessons and materials are often brought into schools without input from the students being served.

“Doing what the students want to do is important to me, because that will have the greatest impact on them, give them ownership over their projects and help them see that the possibilities are endless for their futures,” Sterling said.

WVSU staff and student volunteers launched the first set of STEAM activities at Mary C. Snow’s after-school program last fall with a curriculum designed by WVSU student Ashley Current focusing on recycling and reuse, culminating in a Halloween-themed activity in October in which students made their own costumes using recycled materials.

According to school officials, the program is piquing students’ interest in science.

“Since the first meeting, I have had teachers, parents, guardians and students asking, even begging, to be accepted into the after-school program,” said Natalie Blevins, the elementary school’s family support worker and after-school program director. “Parents are telling me their children are asking not to be picked up from the program until it ends at 5:30.”

With sessions resuming this week, Sterling plans to continue developing lessons based on student feedback. Recent talks with fourth and fifth graders revealed interest in making such things as volcanoes, slime, cars, planes – even shoes.

“The shoe idea kind of threw me, but then I thought, why not?” said Sterling, who hopes to structure lessons around each of the students’ requests. “The more I thought about it, the more I realized how flexible STEAM can be.”


Best. Gift. Ever.

In keeping with the holiday theme, we decided to ask our agents and staff, “What is your favorite gift you’ve ever received for the holidays?” From funny to heartwarming, and everything in between, read on to see what has topped their lists over the years.

He-Man-and-Battlecat-figuresMatt Browning, Director of Communications – Well, there was the time my mom left all my He-Man toys at her office and told me they were on back order with Santa Clause and he’d drop them off soon. Although, my favorite may be my Super Nintendo. I still have it. And still play it.

Tabitha Surface, Extension Agent – Shirt-boxes filled with Nancy Drew books!

Carolyn Stuart, Interim Assistant Program Director for CED & FCS – A Take My Hand and I’ll Walk with You doll.

Kaysha Jackson, Extension Agent – My favorite gift ever was given to me by my older brother. I was 7 years old. On Christmas Day, he walked in the door with a “My Size” doll who stood on her own, had blue hair and came with two tiny discs you could insert in her back to make her sing! What made it even more amazing years later was that this was a time when we had absolutely nothing. Our family was struggling financially, and he began working at the local grocery store to help my mother. He would give my mother most of his check and would save the rest, simply because he wanted to make sure I had a great Christmas and never felt the impact of what we were going through.

Chris Zeto, Extension Agent – An electric scooter when I was in grade school. With snow on the ground and Santa slippers on my feet, I had to take it for a spin as soon as I saw it!

Tammy Hauldren, Extension Associate – The best gift for me always is snow on Christmas Eve and Day!

CPKStacy Herrick, Communications Specialist – The year Cabbage Patch Dolls came out (1983), my parents tried and tried to find one for me for Christmas. Lucky for them, I was too young to make a big deal about it not being under the tree that morning. However, when we were leaving to go visit my grandparents on Christmas afternoon, my dad found a Cabbage Patch Doll sitting on the front seat of his car with a tag that said, “To Stacy, Love, Santa.” To this day, my family still has no idea who left that doll for me (and I still have the doll)!

Stacy Ford, Extension Agent – My engagement ring from my husband! (Or, my twin baby dolls that were anatomically correct.)


Holiday and Wintertime Safety

By Nikki Honosky, WVSU Extension Associate

The cold of winter has started settling in, and the holiday season is upon us. It’s the time of year where people rush into stores in order to find that perfect gift and all the fixings for the festivities to come. Something that many find little time to think about, however, is holiday safety. There are a variety of things that you can put into practice in order to keep yourself safe.

Decorating for the holidays is a serious business, often involving out-of-reach portions of your house or yard. When putting up lights or similar decorations, use the proper tools. If it requires a stepladder or ladder, use them. Don’t try to substitute with a chair or any other available furniture. Furniture wasn’t meant to be used as support, so they aren’t made to support much weight, which could make it collapse. When using any form of ladder, make sure that it is on an even surface and that it either won’t slide or make sure someone is there to hold it steady for you.

Another important holiday safety tip is to travel safely. Whether you’re traveling by car or just walking to your destination, be careful. Winter is here, so you may be dealing with either snow, ice or some combination. Either of those weather conditions can be dangerous if underestimated, so exercise caution when dealing with wintry conditions. Snow can also be dangerous for many reasons. One such reason is that ice can form underneath that wouldn’t be visible because of the top layer of snow. Another factor you will have to deal with is black ice, also known as glare ice. This type of ice can be transparent and can be difficult to detect. Black ice can make the road look wet, so be cautious when traveling. West Virginia doesn’t have the straightest roads on the planet, and negotiating curves can be difficult. Bridges or overpasses have a higher chance of being covered in ice as well, so be sure to remember that while driving this winter season.

If you happen to find yourself driving on any type of ice, remember: don’t panic or brake immediately. Remain calm and slowly take your foot off of the gas. Allow your vehicle to gradually slow down, while taking care to remain safe from the vehicle behind you. Search for a safe and/or secure place to park your vehicle, such as a parking lot. Just remember to make no sudden movements and that you remain cautious when dealing with ice in order to remain safe.

These are just a few tips in order to remain safe this holiday season. While everyone tends to focus on the festivities, don’t forget that the winter season can be dangerous. Always exercise caution throughout the season in order to have a safe holiday.

Holiday Favorites

We’re back with another week of Staff Pics, this time asking, “What is your favorite holiday book/song?”

Alex Phares, Extension Associate – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is my favorite Christmas book, and my favorite holiday song is “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays.”

NightBeforeXmasKaysha Jackson, Extension Agent – My favorite book would have to be The Night Before Christmas by Niroot Puttapipat. I love the illustrations. Favorite song, Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song.”

Crystal Bishop, STEM Education Coord. – My favorite holiday song is “White Christmas,” while my favorite book is The Night Before Christmas.

Matt Browning, Director of Communications – The traditionalist in me will say my favorite Christmas song is “Silent Night.” The 80s kid in me will say “Christmas Wrapping” by the Waitresses.

Annette Ericksen, Assistant Program Director for Agriculture and Natural Resources – My favorite Christmas song is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” but only by Judy Garland.

Holiday Traditions

As another year comes to an end, we begin to reflect on what is important to us and give thanks for those around us. We had fun learning about some of our Extension and Communications staff’s holiday traditions last year, so we decided to ask again this year, “What is your favorite holiday tradition?”

Annette Ericksen, Assistant Program Director for Agriculture & Natural Resources – Making fattigmans. This is a secret Ericksen recipe for a Norwegian treat.

Ray Moeller, Extension Agent – Christmas Eve service followed by Chinese food with the full family.

Hannah Payne, Assistant Program Director for 4-H and Director of CASTEM – Time off = board games!

Stacy Ford, Extension Agent – Buying a new ornament every year and getting the old ones out from years past.

ChristmasPresentCarolyn Stuart, Interim Assistant Program Director for FCS & CED – Waking the children at 12:01 a.m. to open gifts!

Tabitha Surface, Extension Agent – My immediate family getting together on Christmas Eve. We exchange one gift, play games and have a really lovely evening.

Beckley Rings in the Holidays with Pop-Up Shops

By Christine Kinder, WVSU Extension Agent

Downtown Beckley is ringing in the holiday season with a variety of special events relating to Shop Small Saturday, the annual event to encourage shopping at local small businesses.

The Downtown Beckley Business Association (DBBA) is thrilled to once again host the Small Business Saturday Pop-Up Shops Nov. 25 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for Shop Small Saturday.

The event will strengthen the economic base of our local community by supporting small, independent businesses and property owners by creating pop-up shops in The Grant building on Neville St. and promoting retail businesses along Main St. and Neville St. downtown. This event allows business owners the opportunity to be exposed to hundreds of new customers and is also an opportunity for pop-up vendors to explore the possibilities of a downtown location.

Small Business Saturday, an annual national event sponsored by American Express, provides communities an opportunity to advertise their local businesses through “swag” containing promotional materials such as balloons, banners, stickers and the very popular Shop Small tote bag to entice customers to come out and shop.

To help promote our event this year, we partnered with Beckley Rocks! to plan a painted rock scavenger hunt throughout downtown. Beckley Rocks! and DBBA recently held a rock painting party, which provided the community a fun space to create painted rocks to use for the hunt. The rocks will be hidden around downtown and inside of participating retail shops to encourage people to get out and explore downtown Beckley.

Participating shops include: Dragon’s Den Comics and Games, On Point Acupuncture, Roma’s Pizza, Tickety Boo Mercantile, Melody’s, Grand Food Bazaar, Kilted Barber, Matt’s Main Street Barber Shop and Shave, Brown Dog Bottom, and The Consignment Company on Main. We hope this will attract even more customers and that they will discover new shops and spend money locally to support our independent businesses.

The holiday spirit will be flowing through the streets, as businesses will have decorated windows thanks to the Holiday Window Decorating Contest sponsored by the DBBA. We are encouraging businesses downtown to decorate their windows before the Nov. 25 event by holding a contest where the community will vote for their favorite window. The winning window will be awarded a trophy, and all participants will earn appreciation for helping to brighten up our downtown.

Check out the Small Business Saturday Pop-Up Shops flier here.

To learn more, contact WVSU Extension Agent Christine Kinder.

EFNEP Program Helping Recovering Addicts Improve Their Health

By Matt Browning, Director of Communications

A program led by West Virginia State University (WVSU) Extension Service is helping West Virginians struggling with substance use disorders to make smarter, healthier choices on their road to recovery.

An initiative of the USDA, the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) provides instruction on health, nutrition and physical activity but does not traditionally target recovering addicts. With West Virginia being labeled by some as “ground zero for the opioid epidemic,” WVSU is taking a unique approach to help people in need.

“EFNEP wasn’t actually designed to reach this population,” said Tammy Hauldren, a WVSU EFNEP extension associate, “but we have such a need in West Virginia that it only seemed fitting to bring this information to the people we serve.”

While the program traditionally targets low-income families, Hauldren began offering the EFNEP classes at sites such as Recovery Point in Charleston and Huntington to help people in recovery learn the basics of good health and nutrition. Through weekly classes, participants are learning to be more physically active, drink more water and spend wisely at the supermarket.

“Often, our participants know little about grocery shopping and how to spend their money on healthy items in the store, so we cover everything from how to make a list to buying lean protein and making three healthy meals from it,” Hauldren said.

Such information is proving invaluable, as Hauldren has seen firsthand.

“You have given me inspiration and support and some valuable classes in a short time,” said Craig Rhodes, a recent participant in one of Hauldren’s classes. After completing treatment, Rhodes has transitioned into being a full-time caregiver for his two grandchildren. “What I learned from your class has really helped me. I never would’ve dreamed I would be raising these children alone.”

Lessons on health-conscious spending, proper nutrition and serving sizes are supplemented with physical activity to get participants moving.

“In Huntington, for instance, we’ll go to Ritter Park and walk or jog three to four miles,” Hauldren said. “Many participants smoke and drink lots of soda, so while I’m with them, there is none of that. One of the first things I cover is the benefit of replacing sugary sodas and energy drinks with water.”

Another first, she said, is building trust. While EFNEP requires six lessons for each course, Hauldren has expanded that to 10 to help establish and nurture a relationship with participants.

“You have to build a relationship and let participants know you’re there to help, to sow seeds of hope as they move through their recovery process,” she said. “So those first couple of lessons, especially, are about building trust as we ease into the core of the program.”

The approach is paying off, as Hauldren has seen participants learn and benefit from making healthy choices by the end of her time with them.

“I had one man say to me, ‘Ms. Tammy, I’ve been shooting up heroin for 16 years. Why should I care about what I’m going to eat now?’’’ she said. “What I try to impart onto them is that what you eat has everything to do with your recovery.”

Hauldren is thankful, she said, because the need for programming like EFNEP is so great in West Virginia. The state has one of the nation’s highest rates of deaths from drug overdoses. As people move into recovery from addiction, understanding how nutrition and physical activity play a role in that process is vital.

Hauldren maintains a growing waiting list of organizations wanting EFNEP. In addition to Recovery Point Charleston and Huntington, she has brought EFNEP to such sites as Putnam County Drug Court and the Pregnancy Connections program at Thomas Memorial Hospital. She will soon begin offering courses at a site in Wayne County.

Developed by the USDA in 1969, EFNEP has successfully addressed critical societal concerns by employing paraprofessional staff and influencing nutrition and physical activity behaviors of low-income families, particularly those with young children. Through a community-based, relationship-driven, hands-on educational approach, EFNEP has directly impacted economic obesity and food insecurity challenges that hinder the health and wellbeing of the nation.

To learn more, contact Hauldren at (304) 552-0075 or hauldrta@wvstateu.edu.

WVSU Program Aims to Help Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

The concept of family has evolved in recent years, and one particular family dynamic is rapidly increasing. Grandparents are continuously stepping into the role of parent by becoming fulltime caregivers to their grandchildren, and West Virginia is among the most impacted states. According to U.S. Census data, West Virginia ranks fourth in the nation for grandparents raising one or more of their grandchildren.

To help meet the growing needs of this population, West Virginia State University (WVSU) launched Healthy Grandfamilies, a series of free informational sessions and resources, including follow-up support with a licensed social worker. The project seeks to help ease the transition many grandparents face as they once again become a parent, often to very young children and with issues that didn’t exist when they first were raising children.

Topics in the discussion sessions range from how to address social media to navigating the school system.

“Most of the issues dealt with in our sessions, I have been a part of firsthand,” said WVSU Extension Specialist Bonnie Dunn, who leads the sessions. Dunn herself is the product of a grandfamily, an experience she draws upon to connect with participants. “Social media wasn’t an issue back in the 50s and 60s, but everything else – stress, finances, legal issues, healthy living – it’s all timeless.”

In addition to the discussion sessions, which also focus on such topics as communication, technology, nutrition and stress management, participants are provided three months of free follow-up services with a licensed social worker that include assistance with locating community resources, confidential help in meeting family needs and advocacy services.

The program is also proving to be a haven for emotional support. Dunn quickly discovered that participants are overwhelmingly raising grandchildren because of a substance abuse issue with the biological parent. While providing such information isn’t a requirement, it is coming to light anyway – along with the guilt associated with it.

“It became very obvious that many of these grandparents feel like they have failed – that their children wouldn’t be in the situation they are in if they had been better parents,” Dunn said. “That simply isn’t true, but it’s an issue we try and help them work through as best we can.”

To date, the program has reached approximately 80 grandparents raising more than 150 grandchildren – and counting. After a strong launch in Kanawha County, W.Va., the program has expanded into two additional counties, with hopes of graduating 100 participants by the end of 2017. Plans are underway to expand into three more counties in 2018.

To learn more, visit www.HealthyGrandfamilies.com.

Healthy Grandfamilies is funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Capacity Building Grants Program, Award No. 2015-38821-24374.

Alternative Vegetable Growing System Helps Feed McDowell County Residents

An alternative growing method for fresh vegetables is helping feed the citizens of Welch, W.Va., thanks to an initiative led by West Virginia State University (WVSU) Extension Service. The University’s aquaponics system, installed at the Welch Armory, recently produced 150 pounds of fresh lettuce that was donated to residents of a local housing community.

Aquaponics refers to a system in which fish waste supplies nutrients for plant growth. The armory’s system, consisting of three 1,200-gallon tanks filled with tilapia inside a high tunnel structure, is connected to a recirculating hydroponic growing system, which allows plants to grow in the absence of soil in a raised-bed environment. Part of a research project led by WVSU Biology Professor Dr. Jonathan Eya, waste from the fish is used to feed the plants through the recirculating water system. Varying levels of nutrients are provided to the fish in each tank to study the effects of differing feed levels on both fish and plant growth, which, in the initial pilot phase, consisted of lettuce and kale varieties. The project’s first lettuce harvest was donated to residents at Elkhorn Terrace in Welch.

Such aquaponics systems could provide a more sustainable, environmentally friendly alternative growing method for West Virginia farmers on land that isn’t well suited to traditional agriculture.

“Systems such as this give us a way to move onto a piece of land that perhaps has been developed and abandoned, is formerly mined, or vacant lots with soils not suitable for vegetable production,” said WVSU Extension Agent John Bombardiere. “The raised-bed construction also helps in areas prone to high waters from flooding. These systems can be put just about anywhere.”

The Welch Armory is located at 600 Stewart St. in Welch.

What Do I Pack for an Off-Road Trail Ride?

By Chris Zeto, WVSU Extension Agent

In my last post, I talked a little about the many off-road trail options that exist in West Virginia. This time, we’ll discuss the items you’ll need to bring along on your next adventure. Before you venture out, even if you are an experienced rider, be sure you have the necessary equipment and gear you need to hit the trails.

For starters, remember to always wear an approved helmet and protective eyewear. Over-the-ankle footwear and gloves are also strongly encouraged for ATV riding. These basic items, along with a jersey and riding pants or water-resistant pants, not only offer greater protection than ‘everyday’ clothes, but also make riding much more comfortable. After all, what you wear on the trail is as important as what you wear off the trail!

Riding gear is encouraged because it protects you from the elements—including branches, bugs, mud and dust that may come your way. And should you crash your ATV, you’ll be glad your head, eyes and body are protected.

Below is a checklist of everything you need to make your next off-road trip a success.

On-The-Trail Checklist

  • Helmet
  • Protective eyewear – Goggles are preferred, but sunglasses or safety glasses are acceptable.
  • Over-the-ankle footwear – Boots are preferred, but high-top sneakers are acceptable.
  • Long, water-resistant pants are suggested – Shorts are accepted, but not encouraged.
  • Earplugs
  • Snacks
  • Water (and plenty of it)
  • Bug spray
  • Cell phone
  • Maps, because you cannot always count on GPS along the trails.

Off-the-Trail Checklist

  • Fresh T-shirt
  • Dry, clean pants
  • Change of shoes and socks
  • Toiletry bag to freshen up
  • Towel

Having these items along with you will ensure you’re ready to conquer any off-road trails that you encounter. Have fun but be safe!

Happy trails!

Chris Zeto is a WVSU Extension Agent for Community Resource and Economic Development in Logan County, working with Hatfield-McCoy Trails. Photo courtesy of Hatfield-McCoy Trails.