CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) — Summer vacation is winding down, and students and teachers are enjoying the last few weeks before heading back to the daily school routine.

But this year, teachers, staff, administrators and even some students at West Side Middle School gave up a week of their summer to invest in making their school better. 

“This is the first one ever held in the county,” said Christina Young, Principal at West Side Middle School. She is talking about what they have named the “Wolfpack Academy,” a project intended to bring people from all parts of the school to one place to brainstorm and build the skills they need to help everyone be their best.  

This is Young’s second year as Principal and she’s hoping it will be an impactful one. It is a goal she’s hoping to accomplish by hitting the ground running. 

“Normally you do some back-to-school professional developments when school is back in session,” Young said. “But if we really want to make a true difference and a true change here and we want to empower our teachers and empower our students, we need to spend time with them to really show them that mission and that vision of what we want to happen in this building.” 

Academy participants were able to choose which subject matter interests them the most. Then those teams work around the table to identify the challenges, come up with solutions and then figure out how they are going to implement those plans long term and adjust if they need to. 

“This is providing an entire week full of time that they don’t have to worry about teaching a class tomorrow that they are able to really reflect, learn and process over the next couple of weeks how we are going to implement this in our school,” said Kelly Haynes, a Transformation Specialist with the county’s Title I program. 

Several interactive workshops were guided by coaches who helped them make the most of the time. 

“One of the things we needed to do was bring everyone together for the common cause,” Haynes said. “What are we here for, what are we doing, how are we going to make school improvement.” 

Several students were also invited to participate in the sessions. 

“I’ve brought like just a student’s point of view from stuff,” said Zaniah Lewis, one of the student representatives. “The teachers are saying things and I am adding on. Like, I understand their point of view but I’m also adding mine to the conversation, so we get both sides.” 

The academy was offered through Kanawha County’s Title I program. Title I provides federal support to schools in the highest poverty percentage areas of the country. West Side Middle is one of 23 Title I Schools in Kanawha County. Those schools receive financial support, funding for specialized positions and help with school improvement. 

“They typically have a lot more obstacles to overcome,” said Melissa Wilfong, Title I Director for Kanawha County Schools, about why schools in those impoverished areas need the extra support. “What Title I does is we make a level playing field for those kids we give them things that they might not be able to have without the support of Title I.” 

One of the obstacles they addressed during the Wolfpack Academy was how to help the community feel a sense of pride in the school. It is a topic Lewis is passionate about. 

“I’m really hoping that the community is more involved in this school,” she said. “People think it is like a bad school because people have fights in it, but fights are very rare in this school. But the love and the feeling that you feel whenever you walk into the doors is just so safe and so kind and everyone is appreciated here.”

The work going on this summer is aimed at making sure every student who enters the halls has the best chance at success. It is a big job but one that people attending the academy are sure they can accomplish.  

“That is really the whole goal of the academy, empowering them to make better decisions for their students as a collective team,” Haynes said. 

School starts for students in Kanawha County on Friday, August 18. 

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