Trips, soft drink contract focus in Brooke

WELLSBURG – A request for three field trips by Brooke High School’s drama instructor and issues related to a contract with a soft drink company were discussed at the Brooke County Board of Education’s work meeting Monday.

Nathan Marshall, high school drama instructor, asked the board to approve the upcoming field trips, including one set Wednesday.

He said this week’s trip is part of a two-part trip to Pittsburgh’s City Theater’s Young Playwrights Festival. During the first visit, the students will watch a play and then have an opportunity to ask the actors questions.

A grant from the theater will allow a playwright to visit Marshall’s class to help them develop their own play, which will be performed by professional actors during their return to the theater.

Marshall also has asked the board to approve a spring trip to New York City, where students may see two professional theater productions. He said drama students at the school are raising money for the trip.

Marshall hasn’t requested funds for any of the trips, but all field trips must be approved by the school board.

Marshall said the club and beginners, intermediate and advanced classes in drama offered at the school have more than 100 students involved. He said in some cases the courses have engaged students who were at risk of dropping out.

Board President Jim Piccirillo praised Marshall for his efforts, adding he strongly supports the arts. But he expressed concern about the students being taken away from class since the trips take place on school days.

“I think field trips offer a valuable learning experience, but I don’t think anything takes the place of what goes on in the classroom,” Piccirillo said.

He said often the same students are involved in field trips, which adds to the amount of class time missed. He said he heard from a teacher of one student who missed 32 days of school, all of them excused for extracurricular activities.

Marshall said through such trips, his students have gained exposure to professional drama and dance instructors they would not otherwise have.

Board member Frank Ujcich said absences from class for extracurricular activities shouldn’t be an issue if the student is passing courses.

Because the first trip is slated before the board’s next regular meeting, the board gave verbal consent for it. The others will be slated for the board’s consideration at its Oct. 14 meeting at 6 p.m.

Brian Ferguson, board vice president, said, “I don’t have a problem with it if the kids’ grades are getting better because of their involvement in drama. Every kid’s got to find his niche, whether it’s a shop class, sports or drama.”

Board members said other issues that have arisen with field trips are groups raising money before the trips are approved and requests being made in a timely manner.

The school board’s field trip policy states requests should be made to the board at least three weeks before they are scheduled.

The board also heard from Scott Donohew, a football coach at Follansbee Middle School, who said members of the school’s football boosters group have complained they can purchase bottled water for a lower price than is available through the Coca-Cola Bottling Co.

A 10-year, $300,000 contract with Coca-Cola requires Brooke County schools and groups affiliated with them to purchase Coke products only in exchange for the company’s financial support of improvements to athletic facilities at the high school.

Randy Hood, chairman of the school district’s athletic complex committee, told the board through a conference call that the financial support from Coca-Cola is greater than the amount the boosters could hope to make by purchasing goods at a lower price.

The volunteer committee was formed by the school board to seek private contributions for various athletic facilities in the district.

Superintendent Kathy Kidder-Wilkerson said some at the middle schools are unhappy a portion of proceeds from the sale of soft drinks goes to the high school when their sports programs don’t use the school’s facilities.

Piccirillo said when the middle school pupils enter high school, they will benefit from the facilities there. He said boosters and other groups don’t depend solely on soft drinks to raise money as they also collect parking fees and sell programs.

Ferguson, the board’s liaison to the committee, said the group is in negotiations for a new contract with the vendor.

He said it’s been difficult to attract a soft drink vendor for the school district because a state law approved in recent years prohibits soft drinks from being sold through vending machines to students during the school day.

Kidder, who wasn’t superintendent when the earlier contract was approved, said the new contract should be considered by the board and its legal counsel before it’s adopted.

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