WEST UNION, W.Va. — Doddridge County has seen significant increases in property tax values, which has in turn meant more money for schools, and Superintendent Adam Cheeseman said that’s largely thanks to resurgence of the oil and gas industry in the region.

“We are certainly living in a blessed time,” Cheeseman said during a recent appearance on WAJR-FM’s “The Gary Bowden Show.”

“We’ve really rallied around our mission statement that we established a couple years ago, ‘United to Make a Difference,’ and we’ve seen that in the academic world for sure,” he said. “We came in last year fourth out of 55 counties in terms of overall proficiency, so we’re very proud of that.”

Doddridge County High School was one of four single-A high schools to receive an A on the former A to F grading system. The county has a 96.25 percent graduation rate and a 95 percent attendance rate, Cheeseman said.

“We are trending in the right direction, very proud of that, proud of the hard work of our staff and certainly proud of our students,” he said.

But it’s not only the academics that are improving.

About two years ago, Doddridge County Schools began a five-phase building improvement project, starting with the addition of an auxiliary gym that mimics the high school’s current gym.

“That allows us to obviously run two practices after school, get the kids home at an earlier hour, allows our activity buses to run at 5:30, and we shouldn’t have to have any practices starting after 5:30 now,” Cheeseman said. “We also added a couple additional classrooms on that wing and then a really state-of-the-art weight room and weight lifting facilities.”

That arm of the project was completed during the previous school year, and Cheeseman said students quickly began taking advantage of the addition.

The second phase was the addition of a student activity center, located behind the softball field’s outfield. The 140-foot x 70-foot building features 31 yards of indoor/outdoor turf, a mezzanine deck and a large storage area.

“That student activity center obviously will be utilized for athletic purposes, but it also will be utilized for academic purposes,” Cheeseman said. “There’s an indoor pole vault pit, there’s two batting cages, a large space for the football team to utilize or the marching band. In the winter, we can roll out the wrestling mats so the wrestlers can utilize it. In terms of the academics, our PE classes, our science classes. We have a very large project-based learning initiative in the county, so that gives a large space for students and staff to work out some of those projects. It truly is a multi-purpose facility and one that will be utilized greatly.”

Next will come the addition of a new sports facility thanks to the acquisition of some new property, Cheeseman said.

“Moving into the next phase, down over the high from the high school we purchased an additional 15 acres of land and have begun excavating that. Now unfortunately, as you know the weather has not cooperated with us quite as we hoped,” he said. “But that will be utilized for a new football stadium, a turf football field with an eight lane track, with a (turf) baseball field down there as well.”

Though a definitive date for completion is not yet set, Cheeseman said they’re hoping to use the track for this coming season. The girls’ track team won this year’s state championship.

But these improvements aren’t just to compete on aesthetics in addition to skill. It’s about creating a sense of pride among the student body.

“It really gives our students and community something to be proud of,” he said. “I think it really just instills a sense of pride. Our students and our staff come to work every day in top-notch, high-quality facilities. I think there’s pride about that, and I do think it raises morale, which in turn we see in the classroom in terms of academic scores, so I do think there’s a part there.”

Of course, it’s not only about athletics, though.

Doddridge County Schools is also doing it’s share to strengthen its student body academically and to challenge its students in order to be prepared come graduation day.

Each year, the school system develops a theme to rally around in addition to the county’s mission statement. This year’s theme was “Full STEAM Ahead,” a play off of science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics (STEAM) education.

“We have a very large push for STEAM education, actually to the point that we have just recently changed our graduation requirements,” Cheeseman said. “One credit is going to be of the students’ choice, an elective in a STEAM-related type of course, and we’re working hard to make just about every one of our courses at the high school a STEAM component in some way. The second one is a component of what we’ve called career exploration.”

Career exploration is a course in which Doddridge County Schools emphasizes the career pathway and teaches topics such as financial literacy and job application skills, Cheeseman said.

“It will provide certification for students so that they can walk across our stage, graduate and then walk into a very high paying job,” he said. “So basically it is a course that, whether you’re going to go to college or the career, is going to prepare you for life, and we feel like that’s our calling is to prepare our students and young people to have successful lives.”

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