CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Four schools in West Virginia have each received $50,000 for their efforts to vaccinate students and staff against COVID-19.
Governor Jim Justice on Tuesday presented checks to Andrew Jackson Middle School in Cross Lanes, Elkview Middle School in Elkview, Geary Elementary & Middle School in Left Hand and Morgantown Learning Academy in Morgantown.
The effort was launched in July by the West Virginia Department of Education.
The first stop was at Andrew Jackson Middle where principal Rhonda Donohoe told MetroNews much of the money will go toward student activities that have been postponed due to the pandemic.
“We’ll be able to do some activities for students, assemblies and field trips with the funds we’ve been given. We’re always looking at student health and wellness, so there’s an opportunities for us to improve activities that we have here during the day and after school,” she said.
Donohoe said 80 percent of staff have been fully vaccinated. The school plans to hold a clinic Wednesday to get more shots in arms among students.
“We have over 50 percent of our students eligible for vaccines to be vaccinated, so we will improve that number even more,” Donohoe said.
With vaccines now widely available, Donohoe said it’s safer for students to participate in activities they have missed in the past.
“We do bimonthly clubs here that are based on interest. We have music clubs, Pokemon, robotics. All of those clubs can benefit from the money to improve the activities that we do,” she said.
Donohoe said improving social and emotional learning is her top priority.
“Coming back from a pandemic, we are dealing with a lot of students who have had high anxiety and high stress,” she said. “What we can do is support things that will improve that for students.”
The competition was a way to celebrate schools for their hard work to vaccinate students and staff. School participation was completely voluntary.
Justice told students and staff inside Andrew Jackson’s gymnasium he respects individual freedoms when choosing whether to get vaccinated and that the campaign is about “education.”
“If you decide, in your mind, you don’t think it’s good idea to take the shot, we should respect that, but I’m going to try and encourage you every day” he said.
Director of the Morgantown Learning Academy Eva Ward said all staff and students eligible for vaccine have received it, and the number of 5 to 11-year-olds is growing substantially each week.
“We have a really dedicated community here,” Ward said. “We’ve had a lot of protocols throughout the entire pandemic and our families have adopted that and really taken it to heart.”
Like most other schools the pandemic completely shut them down, except for virtual learning and interactions. The money will be used to bring things like graduation ceremonies, field days, field trips and all other activities that were cancelled back for the students.
“All of those will be reinstated by using these funds and hopefully kicked up a couple notches to welcome our students back and continue the process of being together safely,” Ward said.
The governor continued to press people to get the vaccine or the booster. Governor Justice is pleased recent increases in vaccination rates, but it’s not enough. DHHR data shows 85 percent of the people in the ICU or on ventilators are unvaccinated.
“We don’t want to invade anyone from the standpoint of our freedoms whether they take the vaccine or not, but it’s the only bullet I have left in the gun,” Justice said. “At the end of the day the more that are vaccinated the less people will die.”
in addition to the initial dose of the vaccine, Justice is concerned about people who received the shot during first months of availability. Studies show protection falls off sharply leaving people vulnerable to the infection.
“We’ve got to get the booster shots because your immunity for the two shots you had for the two shots you had has really dropped off,” Justice said.
The governor called the vaccine a “bridge” until science takes the next step to find more therapeutics. Until that time, the vaccine is the best option to lessen the severity of a coronavirus infection.
“You’ve got to continue to have the bridge until the great scientists, doctors and God above can give us the right answer to get rid of this forever.”
A total of 12 public and private schools – four elementary schools, four middle schools, and four high schools – with the largest percentage of eligible vaccinated staff and students will each win $50,000 to use for activities or initiatives.
Also geared to 5 to 11-year-olds is the latest round of the Do it For Baby Dog sweepstakes. Registration for the first drawing ends November 14 and the drawing will be held November 15. The prizes include educational savings accounts, lifetime hunting and fishing licenses and money for school parties.
Reporter Mike Nolting contributed to this story.