Before he accepted the assistant superintendent position with Ohio County Schools this past summer, Rick Jones served as principal of John Marshall High School, and one initiative he guided was facilitating a student blog program with Weelunk.
“I can tell you that I learned a lot at the age of 44 because of the process I experienced,” he admitted. “I had the people in our English Department proofread it, and I also had some friends read it to make sure all of my mistakes were caught and corrected, and it was a process that reminded me of several things like how many words I could have used and the proper punctuation and grammar.
“Writing is becoming a lost art in a way because of social media and text messaging, so I’m very excited that we’re going to adopt the same kind of program at Wheeling Park High School. This is an opportunity for our students at Wheeling Park High School that is going to bring them back into the actual process of writing,” he explained. “This is going to be a chance for them to really take a good look at their writing skills on top of what they are already doing in school.”
What Jones witnessed at John Marshall High once the student blogs were published is something he looks forward to after the Wheeling Park writers finish their pieces and figure out what photos they wish to use. The administrator has worked with faculty member Heidi Frazier, the chairperson of the English Department at Wheeling Park High.
“I think the students at John Marshall really enjoyed it because all of their family and friends read those blogs, sure, but then they came to realize that many more were reading them, too. Not only did they like the attention, but I believe they really enjoyed the fact that their stories and opinions got out there to the public.
“The one that still sticks out in my mind was the blog that was written by a young lady who has had issues with depression and everything that goes with that,” he reported. “That meant a lot to her, and it meant a lot to the people who read it, too. Those kinds of issues are issues that, unfortunately, some of young people have to deal with, and support is always helpful.”
And because those issues are not limited to just the Marshall County high school, Jones reported, a decision was made in Ohio County to hire a new member for the staff at Wheeling Park High.
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“When I am talking with our high school students, I can usually hold their attention for five or so minutes, and then they start looking down or looking over at their friends,” Jones said. “But then when I have talked about the school system hiring a mental health counselor, the eyes of every single student perk up, and they start looking at me again.
“When we were speaking with the band at the high school and we told them about the hiring of that counselor, the student looked at me and she looked at a friend and she said, ‘Thank God.’ These are teenagers who are begging for help, and I told them that it’s an extra position that was created because of that need,” he continued. “I’m very excited about this and very proud of our county that we’ve been able to do this because we just can’t sit here and not try to do something.”
The student blogs, Jones believes, also will play a positive part because Weelunk will provide a new voice for the high school’s student body.
“When these young people get to the ages of 16, 17, and 18, they have formed a lot of their own opinions, and this will be an avenue for them to express those opinions on a platform such as Weelunk,” the assistant superintendent said. “It’s going to mean a lot to them because they will know that other people will be reading it, and not just their parents and their friends.
“And it’s going to be great for them from an academic standpoint, too, because I believe it’s going to make them better writers because they are going to have everything proofread because, again, they know that others will be reading those blogs,” he continued. “They are going to become very careful when it comes to their writing because they aren’t going to want to make those mistakes like maybe they would if it was just an in-class project that only a few people would see.”
At this time several students in English classes at Ohio County’s only public high school are now developing the pieces, but Jones is confident the level of participation will increase shortly after a few of the blogs appear here on Weelunk.
“I believe that once the kids see their work on Weelunk and they begin to get the reactions from their family members, their friends, and from the others, it will get contagious at the high school. We have some super-talented kids at our high school who have a lot to say,” Jones said. “I think it’s going to be something they enjoy very much, so everyone involved is looking forward to it.”