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Diverse: Educational opportunities abound

February 28, 2013
By HEATHER ZIEGLER - For The Times Leader , Times Leader

In the early morning hours at Wheeling Park High School, students crack the books before other schools have even opened their doors.

For students at Corpus Christi Grade School, the day always begins with a prayer. In Barnesville, classmates hail from different parts of the world to share their life experiences along with the educational process found at Olney Friends School.

Whatever school parents choose to send their children to, the choices in the Ohio Valley are varied and, in some cases, unique.

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An art class at Olney School in Barnesville, from art teacher Jacob Naegeli; senior Lucy Hartsock from Cincinnati and junior Kelsi Miller from Anchorage, Alaska, utilize the sweeping outdoor campus to complete landscapes drawings.

The public school system in Ohio County has been fortunate to have overwhelming support for its schools via levies routinely approved by voters. This backing has enabled the school system to provide consistent and successful curriculums, sports programs, and fine arts and music opportunities.

Ohio County Schools records an enrollment of about 5,400 students in 13 schools ranging from pre-K to high school. Wheeling Park High School is a consolidated high school serving the entire county with more than 1,800 students.

"Ohio County Schools has a long tradition of excellence in education. A comprehensive Pre K- 12 curriculum is offered to assure students will graduate from high school ready for college and career success. Instruction is enhanced with current technology, and student learning is supported by a multitude of global resources," Dianna Vargo, superintendent of Ohio County Schools, commented.

"As students enter Wheeling Park High School, the tradition of excellence continues. With high standards as the driving force behind all facets of the high school operation, Wheeling Park High School offers a diversified curriculum with more than 250 course offerings."

She said students have the opportunity to select from 17 Advanced Placement courses, more than 60 college credit hours through the "College at Park" program and more than 100 EDGE (Earn a Degree - Graduate Early) college credit hours are available through the Wheeling Park High School Career and Technical Program.

"Additionally, students have the opportunity to perform in the state-of-the-art, 1,200 seat, J. B. Chambers Performing Arts Center that opened on April 10, 2012. The center provides the staff and students with a 21st-century venue for teaching and learning, and it also serves as the cultural hub for expansion of the arts within the school system," Vargo added.

Instrumental music heard in the J.B. Chambers Performing Arts Center includes orchestra, band, and string ensembles from all grade levels. The voices of the Wheeling Park High School Young Patriots fill the center with beautiful sounds of music and student artwork decorates the lobby areas. In December 2012, the 300 student musicians in the Festival of Sound performed to sell-out crowds.

The Wheeling Park High School Park Players, which includes members of the 33-year state speech champions, will present the musical "Anything Goes" this spring. Student success is attributed to the high quality and talented teachers, dedicated students, caring parents, and community support.

Ohio County Schools will host the annual Celebration of the Arts from 4:30-6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 12, at the J. B. Chambers Performing Arts Center. The celebration is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be prepared by the Wheeling Park High School ProStart students.

West Virginia's Catholic school system, headed by Superintendent Vincent de Paul Schmidt, is comprised of 27 schools that are working hard to maintain and increase enrollment during recent economic challenges.

Schmidt said while student enrollment has experienced "no tremendous peaks and valleys," the diocesan school system is pleased to have just over 5,800 students within its classrooms around the state. In 2003, enrollment statewide was 6,140. He said the drop can be attributed to the economy and population loss in general.

However, Schmidt said there is a loyalty among Catholic families that keeps them coming back to the faith-based education. And it's that "community" of people that the schools turn to for support in many ways.

He said each and every request or need within the school system is met by staff, volunteers, parents, students or alumni who value the education and who step up to help. Whether it's lunchroom volunteers or a contractor solving a structural problem, the Catholic school system relies on its communities to keep everything running smoothly.

"I have worked in five dioceses around the country and this community in West Virginia is the most supportive when it comes to meeting the operational needs of the schools," Schmidt noted.

Schmidt said the diocesan schools have generally experienced notable success in state and national math test scores. He credits that to a newer initiative that allows students access to online math programs where they can interact live with a teacher regarding math questions. This service is available to all grade levels in all the Catholic schools, each night until 11:30 p.m.

The diocese earns bragging rights as it reports 100 percent of Wheeling Central High School's Class of 2012 went on to higher education. He credits a dedicated staff, and again points to parents and supporters who encourage students along their academic paths.

"We have teachers who just get it ... to live the Gospel and teach it," Schmidt commented.

Olney Friends School in Barnesville is not your typical high school. The private school's curriculum is evolving to center on the natural resources of Appalachia. The program blends a rigorous, traditional college preparatory education with a hands-on approach to studying the intersection of energy, economy, and the environment at the local and global levels.

Kirsten Bohl, director of advancement and outreach at Olney, said the school is small, enrolling 50-60 students in grades 9-12, including day students from the surrounding area as well as boarding students from many different states and countries. Small class sizes and an individualized approach to instruction result in a 100 percent acceptance rate to four-year colleges and universities by Olney Friends School graduates.

"In the humanities, students pursue college-level student-led discussion using the Harkness model. In the sciences, students assist the Belmont County Soil and Water Conservation District to monitor and protect the health of Captina Creek Watershed, whose headwaters originate on campus. Course offerings include AP classes in physics, calculus, history, and literature," Bohl commented.

Students and teachers make ample use of the school's 350-acre campus in classwork and recreation. The school grows much of its own food on site, from beef to eggs to potatoes to green beans. Students may choose to be involved on the Farm Team as a physical education option.

Founded in 1847 by the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Olney embraces values of simplicity, community, peace, integrity, equality and stewardship of the earth, Bohl noted. Olney Friends School welcomes students of many different faiths.

The school offers day student rates as well as scholarships for distinction in academics, the arts, and community service. More information is available at



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