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Kathleen M. Jacobs: Students must be our central focus

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Over the past 10 years, more than a quarter of West Virginia's public schools have been closed. And while the dropout rate in West Virginia is declining, "it still lags behind its counterparts across the nation in improvement," according to statistics from the West Virginia Department of Education.

Numerous school consolidations over that same time period, both in West Virginia and throughout the country make headlines and prompt infrastructure studies, controversy and uncertainty. And the atrocities of school shootings over the same time period are not only deeply troubling, but their frequency garners reflections on all school-related issues, from social impact to delivery of learning. Maintaining a balance between offering students not only quality education and educators, but also providing an environment that will promote social, physical and spiritual health has become a daunting task for everyone from parents to administrators to faculty who are each held (or certainly should be) responsible and accountable to each and every student enrolled.

Unfortunately, it is not often that we read of significant opportunities or successes reached at all levels of academic endeavors. But, every now and then a refreshing event is highlighted, and with it an equally refreshing ray of hope knocks at our door.

So it is with the start of the upcoming school year's creation of Southern West Virginia's first Catholic high school and the first Catholic high school to open in the state in 57 years. St. Francis de Sales School in Beckley has offered quality academics on the elementary and middle school grade levels, and will now strive to repeat its excellent record of achievement with the inception of the new high school.

Not only is it welcomed news for the students of Southern West Virginia, but it is welcomed news for the Roman Catholic community, as well. While school closings and consolidations, drop-out rates and school shootings seem to inundate us with an overwhelming pallor, suddenly we are witness to a Church that moves beyond its own controversies and challenges within its own hierarchy to remind itself and each of us that one of its traditions is a stronghold on hope. And, without seeming overly optimistic and idealistic, we must remind ourselves of that now-famous line from The Shawshank Redemption: "Remember Red. Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things . . .  ." And that while atrocities happen in schools throughout our country, restoration of mind, body and spirit is most definitely worth the fight -- a fight that without hope wouldn't stand a chance at winning.

As students return to the classroom, we are reminded once again that they are truly the ones who will lead us, the ones who must remain the central focus. Otherwise, the atrocities that they face with stark reality on a near daily basis would be the victors; and that has no hope of coming to fruition.

Jacobs, of Charleston, teaches English at WVU-Tech and will teach English and history at St. Francis de Sales School in Beckley this fall.


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