Extra Credit

Just a dab will do

Facing cuts to the custodial supplies budget, one Kanawha County school officials offered a handy money-saving technique. He sent the following email to teachers across the county:

The Purchasing Department and Maintenance have been working together in an effort to reduce our custodial cost for the coming year. One of our biggest cost is hand soap.

Have you noticed the pump on our hand soap dispensers, if you push the pump down all the way you get a considerable amount of soap. I am a large sized adult and one full pump on that dispenser, and I can almost take a bath. I know a five year old would be able to take a bath with that much soap and some left over in his ears. Our children are wired to grab hold of that pump and push all the way down and maybe twice. If we could reduce the amount of soap being dispense we could cut our cost by a third or half.

My wife is a small person and she always fills her hands with two pumps of soap. I am smart enough not to take on that discussion. She can use whatever amount of soap she deems necessary.

A retired custodian from Pratt Elementary shared her secret with me about reducing hand soap cost. She would take a rubber band and wrap around and around the pump mechanism to restrict its travel. Thus a smaller amount would be put in their hands, and children being wired to use the full stroke of the pump would get a smaller amount of soap, still enough to thoroughly wash their hands, but not enough to scrub their ears.

I encourage each of you to try this in your schools, experiment on yourself. Simply press out a dab of soap on your hands and wash as you normally would. See if you get the benefits of a nice soapy hand with much less soap. If you are comfortable with this and want to save your custodial budget: give it a try.

We have asked the soap supplier to see if they can shorten the stroke on the pump. We have to remember they are in the business of selling soap, they sell less if we use less and they are not readily agreeable to shorten these pumps. They want you to use more than you need.

Just a dab will do.


Charter schools bill amendment removes LGBT protection

Fairness West Virginia, an LGBT activist group, is reporting that the House Education Committee amended the charter schools bill Wednesday night by removing language that protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students from discrimination.

Those protections were included in the bill when it passed the Senate earlier this week. They also are consistent with state Department of Education policies that prohibit bullying or harassment in any public school regarding a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Not much is known of the amendment or who voted for it, but Fairness West Virginia says the change limits protections to classes already listed in state code, which currently does not include sexual orientation or gender identity.

The group has asked supporters to call their delegate and demand the bill’s original protections be restored.

In a social media post, Delegate Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, West Virginia’s first openly gay legislator, said the amendment was proposed by a Democrat and received bipartisan support. He also said education chairwoman Delegate Amanda Pasdon, R-Monongalia, voted against the amendment and should be commended for standing up for LGBT students.

Calls to Skinner and the education committee office for more information have not been returned yet.

The committee took the bill up for the first time late Wednesday night after debate on a “forced pooling” bill on the House floor pushed back committee meetings several hours.

WVU President Gee: Lower the drinking age

WVU President Gordon Gee

West Virginia University President Gordon Gee, an outspoken critic of binge drinking on college campuses, wants the legal drinking age to be 18.

In an interview with The Dominion Post, Gee said if he were “king for a day,” he would change the laws that set the legal drinking age at 21. He also said doing so may fix binge-drinking problems at WVU.

“If we could work toward a responsible drinking age where the university would take much more responsibility, we could have a much better environment,” Gee told The Dominion Post.

Giving younger students the opportunity to legally drink may seem counterintuitive, but Gee and other supporters of lowering the drinking age say it would bring alcohol consumption among college students out in the open.

Binge drinking on college campuses has been tied to alcohol’s restricted access to minors, who often resort to going “underground” or have older students buy them drinks.

While underage drinking in other cultures around the world lacks the taboo allure it does in America because children often drink small amounts of wine at family meals, critics of lowering the drinking age are skeptical things would change. Some say it would just shift binge-drinking problems on college campuses to teens in high school.

This isn’t the first time Gee has suggested lowering the drinking age. Gee, a devout Mormon who claims to have never consumed alcohol, made similar comments in 2008 while he was president of Ohio State University.

Follow along: Debate over charter schools in WV

Follow along while West Virginia legislators debate the possibility of charter schools in West Virginia.

The joint hearing may be viewed here: http://www.legis.state.wv.us/Stream/housechamber.cfm

Live Blog Debate: Charter schools in WV

Library supporters outline need for levy passage

Charleston Daily Mail editors are meeting with the Vote Yes for Libraries Committee, a group campaigning for the passage of Kanawha County’s library levy in November.

Handwriting is key to education

cursive2It’s been nearly two decades, but I remember that dreaded part of the school day when the teacher asked me and my fellow classmates to take our pencils out for the daily penmanship assignment.

As I frivolously drew a chain of circles and lines at the top of the page — this was a warm-up we were required to do without question — the only thought on my mind was how much I hated writing in cursive.

Satisfaction would have come to 6-year-old me if he could have traveled to the future a la Marty McFly to see the lack of cursive writing in adult world. But, looking back, I mourn the “deathblow” the computer keyboard has dealt cursive and handwriting in general.

Unaware to my younger self, writing by hand triggers neural circuits in the brain that are vital to cognitive development and the retention of information. This is why we remember more when we take notes by hand (pay attention college students).

It might be quicker to take notes on a computer, but studies show areas of the brain linked with memory are not as active when we type — if they are active at all.

In a New York Times article about what is lost by forsaking handwriting, writer Maria Konnikova reports that students learn better when they take notes by hand than when they type on a keyboard, not because a computer might distract the student but because writing by hand allows them to better process the information and commit it to memory.

What does this mean for the future of education where Common Core standards do away with penmanship and as more and more schools favor tablets over paper and pencil?

Well, education does need to adapt to the new digital world we live in as more archaic learning methods are replaced — there’s no bypassing that — but, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater because writing by hand is still needed even if it means it’s taught at home instead of in the classroom.

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.


Hello, My Name Is…

As the education reporter for the Charleston Daily Mail, I have my fair share of “Hello, My Name Is…” stickers.

Each time I go into a school, I sign a clipboard cluttered with names and am promptly given a sticker to wear.

I keep these things like skiers do lift tickets. They remind me of where I’ve been and what I’ve done.

The sticker — while I find it tacky and often mismatched with whatever shirt I am wearing at the time — serves a purpose. It lets everyone know who I am and my reason for being there.

My editor, Brad, already introduced me when I came to the Daily Mail in February, but I thought it would be appropriate to do so myself when I restarted this blog, which has been dormant since my predecessor left.

So, if you will:

Hello, my name is Samuel Speciale .

Because I write about education, it’s only fair I reveal a little about my own schooling. I am a graduate of the Marshall University College of Arts and Media with a degree in print journalism. Before that, I studied English at West Virginia State University.

While I write about public schools and policy, I came into this job not knowing anything about either because I went to a private Christian school. My first experience with public schools was a 10-hour state school board  meeting. I was overwhelmed.

Sure, policies can be difficult to understand at times, but they make the world go round.

The beautiful thing about the education beat is that it’s not just about policy making. There are many interesting people doing incredibly eventful things in West Virginia, and they have stories worth telling.

I’ve only been here for two months, but I’ve been fortunate to tell some great stories about iPads revolutionizing schools in Raleigh County and a retired accountant turning a Christian school around.

I look forward to telling many more.

This week in Education


  • Head Start programs in West Virginia are facing budget cuts, just like they are across the country, but students here shouldn’t lose access to preschool — just the services that go along with it, the ones that cater to low-income kids and their families.
  • A local coach is appealing to the Kanawha County School board.  He wants to be allowed to volunteer with George Washington High School’s football team. (And in case you were wondering: high school football season starts Thursday, y’all.)
  • Officials are trying to expand a popular reading program to schools in all 55 counties. Wanna help?
  • Over at the Gazette, Mackenzie Mays has something about the dip in college enrollment in West Virginia and the way that’s tied to the economy — the better the economy, the less people who decide to go to college.
  • Also, in case you missed it, check out our gallery of first-day-of-school photos. Pretty. Cute.

From a Parent’s Mouth

Allow me to direct your attention to the Daily Mail’s Mommyhood blog, where Karan Ireland, a blogger/mom with a kids in Kanawha County school system, wrote Friday about feeling ripped off by this year’s school calendar — which made for a shorter-than-usual summer by about two weeks.

The clock ran out on us before I had the chance to dip-dye my daughter’s hair pink on the ends; before I had the chance to implement a “prepare for school” study regimen; before we even had the chance to get to the beach, or Ikea, or a major league baseball game!

School board: I NEED MORE TIME!

She’s putting into words on the Internet a sentiment that school board members have been considering for months: They decided last year to start school two weeks earlier than usual so the first semester will be over before Christmas break (no more cramming during winter vacation, kids!) but not without worries about the reaction from kids and parents.

If the next academic calendar looks like this one does, that means the summer will be back to its normal length, just shifted back by two weeks — but it’s still not clear if that’s what will happen. At the school board meeting last week board member Becky Jordon asked to have the issue placed on the agenda for next month’s meeting, so we’ll have to wait to see how that pans out.