Extra Credit

National Spelling Bee finals

Varun Kukkillaya, the Charleston Gazette-Mail’s sponsored contestant in the National Spelling Bee, missed the cut for today’s final rounds by a mere single point. He spelled his two words correctly onstage but his score on a written teste was not enough to advance.

West Virginia’s other spellers — George Andrew Triplett of ElkinsRaimah Hossain of Morgantown and  Lillian Taylor Bischof of Wheeling, likewise did not move on to the final rounds.

Nevertheless, spelling bees are fun. So, herein is continuing coverage, brought to you by the Daily Mail’s education writer, Samuel Speciale.

Follow along for the National Spelling Bee

Follow along for updates from the National Spelling Bee.

John Adams Middle School seventh grader Varun Kukkillaya is competing in the bee as the Gazette-Mail’s representative. Cheer for Varun as he goes through the preliminary rounds and then competes on the national stage.

Arts education is integral to student achievement

Justin Skidmore and Olivia Morris rehearse a scene from “Voices of the Mountain,” a collection of one-act skits written by Van Junior and Senior High School students. This skit is called “The Darkness 1,” written by Skylar Stark. It also features actors Mariah Plante and Tyler Eldridge.
Justin Skidmore and Olivia Morris rehearse a scene from “Voices of the Mountain,” a collection of one-act skits written by Van Junior and Senior High School students.

When I first came to the Daily Mail in February, all news on the education front involved lingering problems from the water crisis at schools and the closing of Kawnaha County’s three public day cares.

To tell you the truth, it was kind of depressing.

Then, later in March, I was asked to write an advance for a collection of one-act plays reacting to the water crisis written by high school students from Van Junior and Senior High School.

Not only were these plays about complex issues most of us are still trying to figure out, they were all from the perspective of school-aged kids expressing pain and frustration with a helpless situation they could do nothing about.

As someone who went to a private school without any real arts education, I feel like I missed out, but I have found art provides a much-needed outlet for young people — sometimes an escape.

Not only is art a means for people to express themselves, it is an integral part of receiving a well-rounded education.

Studies have shown that the arts are associated with gains in math, reading, critical thinking and communication skills as well as improvements to motivation, concentration and confidence.

“Today’s generation is a generation of cellphone kids,” said Leah Turley, founder of the Appalachian Artists Collective. “Their ability to speak is lessened because of a reliance on technology. I think theater is the answer to that.”

For some kids, the arts can help them communicate. For less-fortunate kids, it enriches their lives with cultural experience and puts them on the same level as children of affluent or aspiring parents who expose them to arts at an early age.

Art also is something that brings people together, something I think is desperately needed in a culture that seems to give too much focus to the things that divide.

Thankfully, their is push from local, state and federal education officials to encourage the incorporation of arts in schools.


School board election 2014

An off-year primary election seldom stirs up the interest a presidential election does — school board elections even more so.

But, the school board election is one of the most important ones a voter can participate in according to Pete Thaw, a five-term member of the Kanawha County Board of Education and its current president.

“The board of education is kind of left behind, and people forget we spend 70 percent of every tax dollar in Kanawha County,” Thaw said in an interview about the many issues the school board is facing and could face in the future.

While Thaw consistently is the lead vote-getter, he faces several newcomers who have the potential to unseat him and inject the board with new ideas.

Ryan White, Vic Sprouse, Tracy White and Curtis Robinson are all parents of children in the school system and want to see positive changes made for the betterment of all students. Calvin McKinney also seeks to make improvements, but is by far the most experienced of the new candidates with 40 years as a teacher and principal.

Also running is Becky Jordon, a three-term board member seeking re-election. While her attempt to enact a teacher dress code policy this year was met with heated opposition, she expects excellence from students and teachers alike.

The school board sets the school calendar as well as policies that affect more than students and teachers. While its five members do oversee the school system, they are also the most powerful policy makers at the local level.

In the words of Thaw himself: Voters should have an interest in the board and get involved “regardless of who gets elected.”

There’s still a few hours left until we know which of the seven candidates will take the three open seats. For live coverage of the school board election, follow @charleywest and @wvschools on Twitter.

Follow along for coverage of Kanawha and Putnam school board elections, as well as other local races: