Jefferson Elementary students create food pantry and garden

Jefferson Elementary Center fourth-grader Xaiver Hutson restocks cabinets in the school’s food...
Jefferson Elementary Center fourth-grader Xaiver Hutson restocks cabinets in the school’s food pantry. Teachers say the students who help organize and deliver food from the pantry have found a sense of pride and belonging within the school.(Wood County Schools)
Published: Jan. 27, 2021 at 3:03 PM EST
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PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (WTAP) - Jefferson Elementary Center is using its school food pantry to help area families while giving some struggling students a sense of personal pride and belonging.

Teacher Jeanna Plumly said her classroom at Jefferson Elementary Center provides specialized instruction to area elementary students with emotional and behavioral concerns. She leads the class with the support of long-time aides Elise Reynolds and Larry Plumly.

Plumly said she believed the biggest problem for students with emotional or behavioral concerns was a feeling of “not belonging” at the school level. So she worked with the administration and classroom aides to come up with two main activities that would help students become more involved in their school. These were the creation and management of a school food pantry and the development of a flower bed in the courtyard.

While Jenna Plumly handles most dealings with the area organizations donating to the food pantry, she gives a lot of the credit for keeping the pantry running to Elise Reynolds and her students. In 2019, Jeanna Plumly applied for and received a grant from the West Virginia Central Credit Union to help stock the pantry. With the help of First Lutheran Church’s Lawrence Hasbargen and the ladies of Stephenson United Methodist Church, the pantry received weekly brown bag donations, which were distributed by the students. With the consolidation of McKinley and Jefferson this school year, donations have been made by Stephenson United Methodist and the Parkersburg Women’s Club. Reynolds is in charge of making sure snack bags are delivered throughout the building, and up until COVID hit she utilized students to help deliver food bags.

The snack bag distribution also helps improve the morale of the students in her program, Plumly said.  Students are taught how to walk in the hallways appropriately and how to enter and leave classrooms without causing a commotion. In addition, teachers and other students are seeing that the students are being helpful.

“The students feel so much better about themselves when teachers are saying hi and are pleased to see them,” Plumly said. “Plus we are able to teach valuable social skills while providing the entire school with a valuable service,” she added.

The students also designed and planted a flower garden at the school which became a clear source of pride for them.

“When we discussed, as a class, where to put our flower bed, I had one student in particular who was insistent that we not put our flower bed by the school doors, " she said. “When he was finally able to put into words his concerns, he said he thought the bed should be closer to our classroom window so we could watch to make sure no one stepped in the flowers. At that moment I realized  our students truly had a sense of ownership in the project.”

Thanks to the program, class attendance has improved and negative behaviors have decreased.

“As part of my Masters in Educational Leadership action research program, I studied the effects of morale on student behavior and attendance,” she said. “It is a documented fact that students with E/BD perform at a higher level when they have school pride, a feeling of belonging. That is what we are doing here. We are teaching students that they can make a positive difference in their school.”

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