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Hampshire county schools: Virtual Fridays start Oct. 2

Kindergarten teacher at Springfield-Green Spring Gayle Allen presented the board Monday with a typical work day for her, starting early in the morning and running to 9 at night (“Done or not,” she added). She explained that she isn’t the only teacher that’s feeling overwhelmed, as a handful of teachers and administrators were in attendance at the meeting supporting her message.

“We need help. We need a break. We are discouraged,” Allen said to the board. “Fight for us as we fight for our students.”

Principal of Capon Bridge Elementary, John Ferraro also spoke to the board, presenting them with information from a survey he helped conduct from a subsection of Hampshire County teachers. The board was able to flip through the results of this survey and read teacher comments during Ferraro and Allen’s presentation.

“We do the job because we love kids,” Ferraro said simply. “This is new and uncharted for a lot of people.” Pointing at the survey printouts, he added, “It’s very stressful, and you’ll hear the voice of burnout there.”

With teachers having to balance brick-and-mortar students, virtual learners, getting a handle on the Schoology platform and the ever-changing restrictions and guidelines posed by the state, they’re in over their heads, Allen said.

The main issue is that teachers just don’t have the time to devote necessary attention to both the in-person students and the virtual students.

“We don’t have the time during the day to work with the virtual students,” Ferraro said. “It’s coming out of their personal time. We have to do something.”

The board listened intently to the comments and concerns of the teachers present at the meeting, and they were on the same page with them.

“Our teachers are really trying hard to make this work,” said board president Debbie Champ. “We knew when we started this, ‘we don’t know that this is right.’ It’s a new world for all of us.”

Because the county schools are in uncharted waters, Allen and Ferraro were transparent about their uncertainty regarding next steps.

“We don’t expect you to have a silver bullet,” Ferraro said. “We didn’t want to just come in and gripe and complain.”

HHS Alternative Education teacher John Ellifritz shared his thoughts on the matter as well.

“We, as teachers, are capable of teaching virtual. We are capable of doing brick-and-mortar. However, we don’t have the time to set both platforms up,” he said. “We have to sacrifice a family. I have to sacrifice spending time with my 2 kids and my wife in order to keep both things going.”

After hearing similar concerns from other teachers, board vice president Ed Morgan moved that Fridays starting Oct. 2 until the end of the semester will be used for teachers to aid in the development and training for Schoology and “overcoming the trials of virtual teaching,” with special considerations made to some of the HHS Career and Technical Education programs that are dependent on credit hours and hands-on learning. Board member Bernie Hott seconded the motion, and it was a unanimous decision.

“Our teachers are busting their tails,” Morgan remarked, and Champ echoed the sentiment.

“When we originally talked about it, I didn’t like the 4-1 approach,” she said. “But, we’ve figured out it’s not working. Our teachers are giving 120 percent, and we’re drowning.”


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Scout’s honor

Bret builds a visitor’s booth at nursing home

SUNRISE SUMMIT — A freshman’s Eagle Scout project will help connect families with Hampshire Center residents amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bret Hano led a crew of volunteers last weekend in building a shelter with Plexiglas windows just outside the nursing home near the parking lot so residents can visit socially distanced with their loved ones.

“We were all very honored that this young gentleman even thought of us to do something like this for us,” Hampshire Center Executive Director Michelle Smith said Monday.

For Bret, the decision was easy after he saw a similar structure built for a nursing home in Montana about 2 months ago.

The challenge was in getting the project done in a timely manner. He had to get approval from the Boy Scouts and from Hampshire Center.

Then he needed to raise the money for the materials, from pressure-treated plywood (because its outdoor construction) to Plexiglas, at $100 a sheet.

“I had seen what that type of unit costs and the time it takes to put into it,” Smith said.

Thankfully, getting the materials came easy and construction moved quickly.

“In 2 days he got all his equipment,” said Milda Mullins, the Scout leader who took Bret to businesses looking for support.

Time was critical because winter is coming.

“We’re wanting to do it as early as possible because the nursing home has gone into lockdown again,” Bret said. That means tighter restrictions on family visits.

He sees the shelter as useful long after COVID-19 has been contained.

“It’s going to serve the purpose for any airborne virus,” he noted. In flu season, “They might want to keep the patient from being infected.”

Bret, his father Joey and a handful of others met at the Mullins farm in Rio bright and early Saturday morning to build panels that they trucked to the Hampshire Center on Sunrise Boulevard at midday. One of the helpers was Hampshire Center’s maintenance supervisor Michael Poore. 

“You can’t be making that kind of noise at 8 o’clock in the morning at a nursing home,” Bret explained of the 2-stage construction.

By late afternoon the work was done except for a couple of pieces of trim.

Now the ball is in Smith’s court for folks at Hampshire Center to be able to make use of it.

“Everything we do has to have a plan, especially if it’s COVID-related,” she explained.

She hopes to have plans in place later this week, bringing out residents to sit inside while their family members surround them outside.


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‘You have to have a fishing hole’

$350,000 grant to boost trout in Cacapon River  watershed

A $350,630 grant will fund a 1-2 punch by a pair of nonprofits to restore native brook trout habitat in the Cacapon watershed and protect its streams through conservation easements.

Trout Unlimited and the Cacapon and Lost Rivers Land Trust will receive the funds over 2 years from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency.

“The combination of doing the restoration and applying a permanent conservation easement to the land is really the most ideal situation to protect really important resources,” said Jennifer Jones, the land trust’s executive director.

The grant, announced last week by West Virginia’s senators, Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito, will do more than purchase easements and help dig out compromised waters.

The 2 groups will be able to launch the Cacapon Watershed Collaborative to work with other agencies.

“Our vision is to get everybody to the table to talk about the watershed and protecting the amazing resources that we have,” Jones said. “This is an opportunity for us all to come together to identify what those shared goals are.”

She called the various state agencies and farmland protection boards working in the watershed “great partners” who do a lot of great work.  

The grant will also allow the land trust to undertake a research project to learn directly from landowners their views on land protection. 

“We want to get many, many voices to help us understand what they want for the watershed and what they want for their land,” Jones said. “I don’t want to make assumptions.”

But at the heart of the grant — especially for Trout Unlimited — is restoring and protecting key riverside and stream habitat vital to the brook trout population.

“You have to have a fishing hole to have fish,” says Dustin Wichterman, associate director for Trout Unlimited’s Mid-Atlantic Coldwater Habitat Program.

And not just any brook trout.

“When we survey for brook trout, we do genetic analysis to see if they’re Cacapon brook trout and not from hatcheries,” said DNR fish biologist Brandon Keplinger. “We need to make sure they’re native brook trout.”

DNR and Trout Unlimited work hand in hand to study the brookies and keep the population healthy. Keplinger said that what Trout Unlimited brings to the table is the ability to work with private landowners that border the public streams and rivers.

 Wichterman describes Trout Unlimited’s work with landowners as a start-to-finish approach.

“We put our work where our mouth is,” he says.

If Trout Unlimited asks a farmer to consider fencing to keep cattle out of the river, for example, his group starts with help finding the funds and securing permits. 

Trout Unlimited employs its own people and brings in its own heavy equipment for the project.

“If we’re going to exclude animals from a stream, we have to supply adequate water,” Wichterman notes. “If we’re going to show up to help someone, we don’t walk away.”

The result, he says, is a healthier stream and a better farm.

“It’s a win-win all across the board,” he says.

Keplinger says Trout Unlimited’s work is important to the Department of Natural Resources for a couple of reasons.  

“We don’t manage areas anglers can’t get benefit from,” Keplinger notes. “That’s where brook trout are most imperiled,”

And that’s where Trout Unlimited often steps in.

Development, foresting and agriculture all encroach on the health of the streams and the trout. The result is “streams that are too wide and shallow, Sediment that’s accumulating,” he says.

Fencing out cattle is accompanied by relandscaping the river’s edge and reclaiming the deep areas of the river where the brook trout thrive.

And reclaiming the Cacapon and Lost Rivers watershed is important for all of Hampshire County and West Virginia.

“Hampshire is the line,” Keplinger says, between development that has overrun streams to the east and the relatively unscathed lands to the west.

The 680-square mile Cacapon watershed in portions of Hampshire, Hardy and Morgan counties has been identified as a priority in the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund program. Jones reasserted that it represents the easternmost stronghold for native brook trout in the state.


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'Small, but mighty'

CB Library keeps community close

CAPON BRIDGE — There’s not much room on the front porch of the Capon Bridge Library these days. That’s because when the library closed on March 17, library director Nancy Meade did everything she could to continue to connect with the community.

And they’re still going strong.

When the library levy failed to pass in June, Meade said she was “stunned.”

“I couldn’t believe it. The libraries? Not pass?” Meade said incredulously. “It has never not passed!”

The school bond was also on the ballot in June, and Meade said she thought that might have played a part in the outcome of the library levy.

“They didn’t think the school bond would pass. I’m glad it did, and we need it, yes, but we need the libraries, too,” she said. “This is an amount they’ve been paying every year; it’s nothing new.”

Meade also pointed out that for a family of 6, it’s “less than 20 bucks a year.”

The levy needed 60 percent of the vote to pass, and it was just a hair shy, ending at 58 percent.

Which is interesting, since 100 percent of the community benefits by having the libraries open and in action.

For example, with school starting and many students participating in virtual learning, Meade said she wants to be able to provide a safe space for Hampshire County students to do their schoolwork.

COVID-19 does make things a little trickier, she admitted. The Capon Bridge library is only allowing 3 patrons in at a time, but she’s prepared to be creative.

“Are they going to need us more? Less? At different times?” Meade asked about the students, and because the pandemic has launched the county into uncharted territory, no one knows the answer to her questions.

“Students can come in here to use the Wifi; we let people know they can go under our pavilion and use our WiFi there or on our porch,” Meade explained. “We’ve got chairs out there and a table, of course.”

With Gov. Jim Justice’s order that internet hotspots be extended from schools, national parks and, of course, libraries, Meade said internet accessibility around the library might help students in the Capon Bridge area with their own broadband speed.

The overarching theme for libraries these days is “more.” They’re “more” than places to grab a good book, and they’re even more than spots to access free WiFi. They’re safe community areas, creative hubs and resources for community-wide information.

Meade described how, in the past, students got off the bus and came into the library after school.

“It’s just a safe space,” she added.

The library is also providing crafts for kids, and they have been active throughout the pandemic with connecting the community through virtual means.

“We’re very big on our website. Our virtual summer reading program was awesome. It was really special,” she explained. “We’ve had something out on our porch ever since we closed in March. We were doing a lot of ‘kid kits’ and we’d put those out for the weekend. It has a little craft in it they can do over the weekend. Everyone has been loving it.”

Meade said it’s important to them to have something out all the time, since the pandemic limited goings-on around the county for kids this summer.

“It might give Mom or whoever a break. It’s something for them to do, and it keeps them thinking about the library,” she said.

In addition to being a craft center for the county, the bulletin board in the library is filled to capacity with flyers and information for the area, from information about the Amazing Grace Food Pantry to how to donate to the local animal shelter to calendars and more.

The flyer in the center of the bulletin board says, “The Capon Bridge Library is small but mighty,” and it lists the services offered by the hub: concerts under the pavilion, tutoring, meet-the-author events and holiday celebrations.

If anything is certain, it’s that even though the library has had to shift gears and adapt over the last few months, they’ll figure out a way to remain “mighty,” no matter what challenges are thrown at them.


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Summer’s end boosts Fall’s color chances

Mother Nature, will this be the year you finally show off your brilliant colors here?

The forces of nature appear to be aligning for a glorious autumn in Hampshire County and the Potomac Highlands.

Fall officially arrived Tuesday morning and Summer did its best to give the season a kickstart with plunging nighttime temperatures and the right amount of moisture.

Sunday morning’s low of 30 in Romney was an all-time record for Sept. 20 and most of last week had morning lows in the 30s.

That’s half the formula for fall color. The other half is moisture — not too much, please.

As of Tuesday, Romney’s official reporting station with the National Weather Service showed less than an inch of rain in September. The monthly average is 2.47 inches.

“Usually a little dry spell before fall means we have some really nice colors,” Forester Bill Pownell said.

Water availability affects the availability of nutrients for the trees, explained Pownell’s colleague, Dylan Kesner. 

The best color scenario is a growing season with plenty of moisture, followed by a dry, cool and sunny autumn with warm days and cool, but frost-free nights, environmental biologist Jim Egenrieder has explained.

As fall progresses, cells in each tree leaf create the abscission layer, which prevents new chlorophyll from developing.

“Severe drought causes the abscission layer to form earlier and leaves often dry up or drop before they change color,” Egenrieder says. “Heavy rain and wind can cause the leaves to fall before they fully develop color.”

In layperson’s terms, Pownell has noted, day length is the trigger and a cold snap brings the color on.

That could be good news for the Potomac Eagle, which begins its daily October schedule next week.

The tourism train will run through the Trough at 1 p.m. Mondays through Fridays in October and at 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

The annual Leaf Peepers Festival in Tucker County has been canceled this year, but Garrett County’s Autumn Glory Festival in Maryland will have its 52nd run Oct. 7-11.


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WVSDB quietly readies to turn 150

ROMNEY — Next Tuesday marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the 1st classes at the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind.

Students and staff will mark the day with a virtual talk by historian and retired WVSDB employee Dan Oates in the morning and a presentation by Civil War re-enactors in the afternoon.

It’s a far cry from planning that began before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down public gatherings.

“When we started talking about it last winter, we wanted a carnival, fireworks, a parade,” said Outreach Director Melanie Hessee, who is coordinating the sesquicentennial. “We can’t plan anything like that now, of course.”

Oates will speak and present documents and pictures for students to discuss and ask questions about from 10 to 11.

Then in the afternoon re-enactors will present on the Civil War, which concluded just 5 years before the school’s creation and which led to the school’s creation.

“They will bring some Civil War-era artifacts with them that the kids can look at and talk about,” Hesse said.

A few other speakers may be added to the agenda before Tuesday, she said. Video greetings may be added to the 150th-birthday celebration too.