FOLLANSBEE - The classrooms at most schools are empty, typical of mid-summer, but several at Jefferson Primary School are occupied by children reading books, writing their own stories and drawing pictures.
The children, who are in grades 1-6, also are learning about good nutrition through the Energy Express program held by the Brooke County West Virginia University Extension Service.
It's the third year for the program, which is held over five weeks each weekday morning and involves children reading stories centered around such themes as self, family, friends, home and community.
"They're coming to school in the summer and they want to be here," said Erica Gump, who coordinates 4-H and other youth programs for the extension service.
John Lyonett, a retired Brooke County teacher serving as site supervisor, said about half of the 40 children participating were involved last year.
He said key to the program's success is involving the children in a variety of hands-on activities, including games aimed at promoting teamwork over individual competition.
Cole Gaschler, 9, of Wellsburg, who also participated in the program last year, said he's made new friends through it.
Ally Platt, 7, of Follansbee said she has enjoyed the art projects, including friendship bracelets made with beads and buttons.
The classrooms have been decorated with drawings and crafts made by the children and inspired by the books they have read, often using recycled materials donated by the public.
For example, during the home-themed week, a group was making houses using cereal boxes covered with construction paper.
The children also have written their own stories or created their own endings to the books they have read, said Brittany Raineri of Colliers, one of several high school or college students serving as mentors in the program.
An education major at West Liberty University, Raineri said she's gotten many ideas for classroom lessons and projects she will employ while student teaching.
Cody Schwertfeger of Wellsburg, another WLU education major, said he's enjoyed working with the students during the "Rec" time (short for recreation) on the school's playground and in other activities.
"It's been wonderful. I love it," he said.
"I think it's wonderful they are able to get that experience," Gump said of the education students involved in the program.
Guest readers from various walks of life visit each day to read stories that have ranged from "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" and Beverly Cleary's "The Mouse and the Motorcycle" to Patricia McLachlan's "Sarah, Plain and Tall" and "Manfish: A Story fo Jacques Cousteau" by Jennifer Berne.
As part of the community theme, the program's coordinators are collecting school supplies to be distributed to children of families in need for the upcoming school year.
They will be collecting them up to July 27 from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at the school and the following locations: Brooke County Public Library and Follansbee Branch Library, Follansbee McDonald's and Sunoco and Felici Insurance.
There also will be an open house from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday. Parents and other family members and anyone interested in learning about the program is encouraged to attend.
This year's participants include children from nearly every Brooke County school.
Gump said some parents of children in Wellsburg have asked if another program could be held closer to their homes and she'd like to add one next year, pending available funding.
The program's part-time temporary staff and other expenses are funded by the extension service, the West Virginia Commission for National and Community Service and the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts.
The children also receive lunches through a grant from the department of education's summer food program awarded to CHANGE, Inc., a community agency based in Weirton.
The children and adults sit down at a table in the school's cafeteria but the food is set down in the center. It presents an opportunity to teach about table manners and promote the idea of sharing conversation during meals, Lyonett said.
Gump acknowledged the busy schedules of many family members can make it hard for them to get together, but dinner is one time they can touch base.
The local Energy Express program also has received a boost through a private grant awarded by the Bernard McDonough Foundation and a state grant secured by state Del. Roy Givens, D-Brooke, said Liz Gatts, an extension agent serving as county coordinator for the program.
The Brooke County program is one of 79 Energy Express programs in the state, including two in Hancock County.
(Scott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)