I am a resident of Raleigh County (17 years and counting), was raised in Greenbrier County and lived there almost 25 years as an adult, and spent the majority of my working career (33 years) in Fayette County. I was blessed to serve as a teacher, coach and administrator at Meadow Bridge High School in a community that cares deeply about its schools and the children they serve. It is a special place that nurtured me as an educator, as well as its students.
Explaining what it is like to be a part of a community school to an outsider is difficult. People in eastern Fayette County (Meadow Bridge has the largest geographical school district in the county yet the smallest school population) are vested in their schools. The schools have always been the pulse of the community, the hub of any and all civic pride.
Imagine a place where children are valued, yet held to high expectations by teachers, parents and administrators, a place where students who are hurting and come from difficult circumstances find caring and hope that a better life is possible and most importantly that they matter, a place where students gain the confidence and the skills to live lives of accomplishment. Meadow Bridge High School is such a place.
Educators there are also accountable, yet should they need support, assistance or encouragement, the community provides it. Don't get me wrong, it isn't and wasn't perfect, but if I listed all the projects and grand schemes from biddy basketball leagues, to fundraising for academics, extracurricular educational trips, to volunteers painting and cleaning the entire school, to repairing facilities and purchasing materials for students that I witnessed in my time there, I would fill a full page in this newspaper. When I picked up the phone and called someone in the community with a worthwhile project, I had help instantly.
Maintaining a positive school environment like the one I have been describing has not been easy in a dilapidated facility, one that was allowed to decay by the powers that be with the hopes that if it got bad enough the community would relent to hour-plus long bus rides for its students to a school on the other end of the county over treacherous roads where it would have been difficult if not impossible for them to find the connections and support that was at their disposal in their own community. A phrase coined many years ago, "Meadow Bridge High School, where learning is fun," still holds true today, and thanks to the recent decision by the West Virginia SBA to fund a new regional school there, it will also hold true in the future.
Great praise is needed for the students and teachers at MBHS over the past several decades for continuing to work hard to achieve in the face of feeling of little value by those charged with providing them a school facility equal to those in other counties and not providing the staffing necessary to fully meet the needs of its students.
Great praise is needed for those adults in the community who took up the fight to see that these children were not swept under the rug in the money game of consolidation. For over 20 years (I cannot list them all) Carolyn Arritt, Randall Patterson, Shirley McGraw, Lyndia Wyant, Gary Walker, Paul McClung and many others have traveled to Fayetteville and Charleston to have a presence at every county board of education meeting, at every state BOE meeting, at every SBA meeting where they have spoken and told the story of Meadow Bridge and asked for the fair and just treatment that was finally awarded in late 2019 to provide a modern facility to the students of eastern Fayette County and also those of close by neighboring counties (Greenbrier, Summers and Raleigh). The time and effort to raise community dollars for the legal expenses needed to ward off ill-advised and illegal consolidation plans was immense.
Great praise is also appropriate for those members of the current state BOE, State Superintendent Steve Paine, and the members of the SBA for doing what is right and best for the students of Meadow Bridge and the surrounding area. There should also be gratitude for Fayette County Superintendent Terry George, his staff and the local BOE who, when finally acknowledging that closing MBHS was not going to be possible, took up the cause and championed it to state authorities. The irony in all of this is that Mr. George and Ms. Kincaid-Cline had to adopt the same arguments Meadow Bridge supporters had been using for so many years to refute their county consolidation plans in order to get the proposals for state funding passed. How tasty that feast of crow must have been.
Never once have I heard anyone in the Meadow Bridge community begrudge funding awarded to the Plateau area for needed schools there or to any other community across our state where students' needs were great. I hope in the coming days that residents in Raleigh County as well as the Plateau area of Fayette County can rejoice with the people of eastern Fayette County because their children are being served at last.
I have already listened as neighbors and friends complained that Fayette County brought no matching funds to the table for this project, while Raleigh brought millions to match state funds for their Stratton project. Monies awarded to recent Fayette projects pale in comparison to others statewide since the SBA came into being in 1989. During that time tax money from Fayette County (as state dollars) have funded projects all over West Virginia. The SBA tries to level the playing field so that poorer counties can maintain quality facilities equal to their more affluent neighbors by pooling and then dispersing funds for the construction and maintenance of school facilities to meet the educational needs of the people of the state in an efficient and economical way.
I, too, hope that the Stratton project is funded, and soon. It is needed. Until then, I hope others outside eastern Fayette County can find it in their hearts to celebrate a long-deserved victory for the little guys who refused to quit, refused to knuckle under to consolidation plans that didn't have the best interests of their kids at heart, and instead chose to fight for what was right, and finally after 20 years got rewarded for their efforts. That's as American as it gets. Go Wildcats!