A group of high school students presented to the Vandalia Board of Education on Tuesday their plan to mentor younger students and ease their transition into high school.
Riely Ward, Macie Zumwalt, Madison Ledbetter, Bailey Elder and Ethan Durbin-Flack explained their reasons for forming the Grub Club.
Ward, a sophomore, said that she and Zumwalt had come up with the “idea of (being) some kind of mentor” for younger students in the district.
She said that a short time later, Ledbetter “came to me with pretty much the same idea … getting high school students involved with the younger kids.”
The idea is to have a meeting time with the younger students, such as sitting down with them at lunch.
“What we’re trying to do is,” Ward said, “it’s kind of like a Big Brother thing, kind of a mentor group, to kind of help mix the high schoolers with the younger junior high kids.
“This way, as the upcoming freshmen come into high school, they’re not so scared,” Ward said, explaining that her idea came about after watching some classmates enter VCHS as freshmen.
“When I came in, I knew almost everybody, so I didn’t feel terrified, whereas some others did not know others and were shaking their first day,” she said.
Ward mentioned specifically a “little girl last year who was getting very strongly bullied and was being made fun of” because of her haircut.
“I wanted something to interact with those kids who didn’t have many friends, don’t have anybody to sit with at lunch,” she said.
“So, I wanted to go over there (VJHS) and make friends with others. This way, they have somebody and somebody to sit down with at lunch,” Ward said.
Zumwalt said that her interest in such a program stems from what she’s seeing other students having to deal with.
“It’s important because a lot of kids nowadays are getting bullied, especially on social media, and you want to be a role model for them and help them out,” Zumwalt said.
“It might even help some of the high schoolers,” she said.
“Some kids have bad home lives, so you just want to help them,” Zumwalt said.
Durbin-Flack said that he had gained experience about helping peers at a camp he attended this summer and wanted to use that experience to help fellow students at VCHS.
He went to VCHS Assistant Principal Greta Krueger, who linked him with the Grub Club.
The group has a list of rules for the club. Participants must have at least a C average; wear appropriate dress when meeting with the younger students; not use any foul language with those students; not use any electronics when meeting with the students, so there is interaction; and not add the younger students on their social media involvement.
School board members voiced their approval and support of the mentor program.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, parent Sarah Boatman talked to the board about her interest in getting a playground for fourth- and fifth-grade students.
Boatman said she has been talking with Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Garrison for about a year about the idea.
“Right now, there’s not a whole lot for them to do on the concrete they have,” Boatman said.
In comparison, Boatman said, she told Garrison, “State farm inmates have more than what my fourth- and fifth-graders have on their yard to play with.
“They need the gross motor action,” she said. “They need to be able to play.
“When I was in fifth grade, we had swings, we had slides, we had a field … we had stuff to play on,” Boatman said. “These kids have nothing to play on.”
She said that she has a committee formed for the project and that they have a Facebook page.
“I have had probably 50 parents contact me,” Boatman said, adding that the parents’ group at the elementary school has also gotten involved.
She said that she has looked online at plans available with the same company that provided the playground equipment for the elementary school.
The cost of the plans for a fourth- and fifth-grade plan, Boatman said, are in the $125,000-$150,000 range, and that company provides a match on the payment.
As to how the playground would be paid for, Boatman said, “I’m not big into fundraising, because this should have already been provided.”
Instead, she proposes a “unraiser,” with the school district to request Tax Increment Financing funds from the city to be used in conjunction with donations from businesses and individuals.
“I think if we can go forward with the TIF money, there’s no reason why we cannot start this by the end of this school year.
“I’m not against fundraising,” she said. “I just don’t think my child should have to sell candy bars for something that should already be there.”
The board agreed to work with Boatman and her group on the project.
Also at the meeting, the board approved a collective bargaining agreement between the Vandalia Unit Teachers Association and school district.
The new, three-year contract includes increases of 2 percent in the first two years and a 1.5 percent increase in the third year, as well as a $20 contribution for insurance and 2.15-percent step increases.
The board also approved salary and benefit increases for support staff and administration, with information on those increases not yet available.
The board also on Tuesday accepted the resignation of high school special education teacher Jennifer Tackett, and approved three volunteer coaches – Brian Swain, girls golf; Adam Bowling, assistant football; and Marcus Zimmerman, assistant football.
It also approved the construction agreement with Delmar and Elizabeth Mills for this year’s Okaw Area Vocational Center building trades house.