Poverty in school: A growing crisis
“If you have any heart at all, you worry about these kids and the problems they face”
by Gail Marsh
    Tom Sears, a supervisor with Harrison County Parks and Recreation, said he isn’t surprised by a recent study that says the number of children living in poverty in the Mountain State is rising.
    “When you’re out working with children, you can’t help but notice it. And the problem seems to be getting more severe,” Sears said.
    Sears has worked with children in after school and summer programs for the last five years. He has seen first-hand how poverty can affect children. Too many children are still not getting enough to eat, Sears said.
    “We furnish lunch for the summer program participants, and when it’s time to eat kids come from everywhere to get something to fill them up. It may be the only good meal they get all day,” he said.
    And Sears said children in poverty suffer in other ways, too. “Many of the kids have really rough lives. They’re often the quiet ones, the ones who sit by themselves or the ones who have bad attitudes. If you have any heart at all, you worry about these kids and the problems they face,” Sears said.
    According to the West Virginia Kids Count Fund study, the state’s child poverty rate has grown 62.2 percent since 1980, from 18.5 percent to 30 percent of state children. Area counties range from a low of 28.8 percent in Marion County to 44.9 percent of children in Gilmer County. One in three children in Harrison County live in poverty, well above the national average of 20.8 percent.
    Poor children often have health problems, have low self-esteem and are unprepared to begin kindergarten, according to the study. And those factors can impact county school systems.
    Rosealee Dolan, principal at Wilsonburg Elementary School, said that because of problems associated with poverty, schools are no longer just places to learn. Instead, teachers find themselves doing a lot more social work.
    “We find that many of our children need help in a number of areas just to be able to be ready to learn. So many little things we assume these children know, but they don’t have anyone to show them. We have to take time to teach them,” she said.
    Wilsonburg has obtained grant money to offer tutoring, after school programs and homework aid to local children. The school also works with a day care center to help children with their vocabulary and motor skills, preparing them for kindergarten.
    “We work to let parents know how important an education is to their children. If we make learning a positive experience, the children will have a better chance of breaking the poverty cycle,” she said.
    Carla Johnson, a family coordinator at the Central West Virginia Community Action Head Start Program in Salem, works with preschoolers to prepare them for kindergarten. She said Head Start can level the playing field for poor children and help them start school with more skills and a good attitude.
    “We teach the children basic things that will help them adjust to kindergarten, like waiting in line, sitting in their seats or playing well with others. It helps them to become comfortable with school,” Johnson said.
    Johnson said the best part of her job is seeing the change the program often makes in the lives of the children. “They may come in afraid with their heads down, and may not know how to communicate what they want. It’s wonderful to see them begin to bloom and to come in laughing and ready to play and learn,” she said.
    Though Harrison County has a number of Head Start centers, most have long waiting lists, according to Tony Shade, a coordinator at the Clarksburg center on Chestnut Street. “We handle 36 children here, but we probably have 100 on a waiting list. I’d like to see the program expand because it really benefits the whole family,” he said.
    The Kids Count study shows Harrison County child poverty up 67.6 percent since 1980. About 30 percent of the children who live in Harrison County live in poverty. But Donna Moore, a community health coordinator for Harrison County schools, believes the poverty level is actually more stable than the statistics show.
    “I think poor children have always been out there, but now we have more ways of identifying them and have more resources to help them,” the school nurse said.
    Moore said some poor children come to school on Monday starved because they haven’t had much to eat over the weekend. And too many children don’t do well in the classroom because they’re hungry or have health problems.
    “Children may be listless and unable to concentrate because they’re hungry or they don’t feel well. Teachers often refer students to us so we can get them some help,” she said.
    Moore said her office works with local doctors and dentists, CRISS-CROSS and other social service agencies to help provide services to poor children.
    “We know that if a child is not well or is in need of eye glasses or dental work, they do not do well in school. We are fortunate in this county to have so much community support,” she said.

Children of working
poor can benefit from
insurance program
Children whose parents are not receiving Medicaid
can still get needed medical care, including shots
by Gail Marsh
    A bill signed in 1998 will allow most poor children from working families in West Virginia to have access to health care coverage.
    The Legislature enacted the West Virginia Children’s Health Insurance Program in April 1998 to guarantee adequate health care to children whose household incomes are lower than, the same as, or 50 percent higher than the federal poverty level.
    The program is part of a federal initiative that is providing $24 billion over five years to help states expand coverage to the nation’s estimated 10 million uninsured children. West Virginia is slated to receive about $23.7 million a year, matched with $5 million in state money.
    Eligibility for the insurance is based on a family’s gross income. A family of four could earn up to $2,057 per month and still be eligible for coverage.
    The program’s first phase, which began last July, covered all children through 5 years of age who met the federal poverty guidelines. More than 1,700 state children are eligible for the program.
    On Jan. 1, 1999, a second phase began that will eventually cover all children ages 6 to 18 who meet the federal income guidelines. More than 23,000 children will be eligible for this phase of the program.
    “Children whose families are on welfare often have medical cards, so they can get the care they need. The biggest problem is the working poor who have no coverage at all. This program will help those children to get the services they need,” said Donna Moore, coordinator of health services for Harrison County Schools.
    The West Virginia Children’s Health Insurance program provides benefits similar to other insurance programs, including coverage for hospital stays, doctors’ visits, immunizations and well-baby and well-child visits.
    “Often poorer families aren’t’ able to provide well child check-ups for their children, something necessary to ensure a child’s overall health. This program can help parents by providing that service,” Moore said.
    The program is administered by the state Bureau of Medical Services and each child who qualifies will receive a health insurance card. Parents will have the opportunity to choose a doctor in their area who participates in the program.
    To learn more about the program or to receive an application, people can contact the Department of Health and Human Resources or call 1-888-WV-FAMILY (1-888-983-2645).

Hundreds brave the
elements to raise funds
for multiple sclerosis
Organizers gratified with support of area walkers
by Gail Marsh
    A torrential downpour lasted until a few minutes before the kickoff, but the dismal weather failed to keep away the more than 100 walkers who came out for this year’s Multiple Sclerosis Walk at Veteran’s Memorial Park Sunday afternoon.
Another 100 participants showed up to provide technical support and to cheer on the walkers who raised money by covering a designated, six-mile course.
    Ruby Fratt of Clarksburg, chair of the MS Walk, said last year’s event raised more than $14,000, and she expects the total to be high again this year. “This is our fifth year and people have shown great support for this cause, despite the cold weather,” Fratt said.
    Joy Haney of Bridgeport, a member of the Bridgeport Junior Women’s Club, took part in the walk for personal reasons. Her mother, Joyce Heard, was diagnosed with MS more than 20 years.
    Beyond raising funds for research, Haney said events like the local walk help to promote an awareness of the often-misunderstood disease. “People confuse MS with muscular dystrophy, and they think we are raising money for Jerry’s kids. But this is about multiple sclerosis, a disease that is often difficult to diagnose,” she said.
    According to a fact sheet, MS is a chronic disease that randomly attacks the central nervous system. Symptoms can run the gamut from slight blurring of vision to pain and fatigue to total paralysis.
    Problems develop when the myelin sheath surrounding a nerve fiber becomes damaged and scarred (sclerosis), which interrupts the proper transmission of nerve signals. There are a few medications to help treat the symptoms of MS, but there is no known cure for the progressive disease.
    Haney remembers her mother slowly losing coordination and having problems with her equilibrium before finding out what was wrong. Haney said her mother had to go from doctor to doctor before she was eventually diagnosed with MS.
Finally learning why her mother’s health was failing was both good and bad, she said.
“When something’s wrong with someone, you want to find out what it is. But there is no cure for MS at this time, so a diagnosis can be very hard on a family,” she said.
    Haney said her mother is now a patient at The Heritage Nursing facility, and Haney visits her often with her two children. Since her mother’s diagnosis, three family friends in their 30s have also been diagnosed with the disease.
    “So many people here at the walk have been personally affected by someone who has MS. It’s great to see people come out and show their support,” she said.

Lewis Co. man does
battle with Uncle Sam
over Y2K compliance
    Ralph Hinzman isn’t real worried about the Y2K bug affecting his business. Then again, why worry when you don’t even use a computer?
    The 87-year-old Lewis County man has been selling mutual funds since 1948, and he has had his own company since 1965. He doesn’t see the need for a computer, and he certainly doesn’t see the need to worry about Y2K shutting him down.
“You make a check out to the fund, I put a stamp on it and send it in,” Hinzman said. “How complicated is that? Why do I need a computer?”
    But that wasn’t good enough for the Securities and Exchange Commission, the federal agency that regulates stock trading. The commission fined Hinzman $5,000 for failing to properly respond to an agency inquiry into how he planned to become Y2K compliant.
    Actually, Hinzman simply wrote “not applicable, we don’t have a computer” on a 17-page form and sent it back to the commission. “Maybe I was a little nasty with the guy who imposed the fine,” he said. “I told him he was getting on my nerves.”
    Hinzman got several letters back from the commission, but he said he was willing to let the facts speak for themselves.
“Do you think you could fill out a form like that if you didn’t have a computer?” he asked. “The first question ought to be, ‘Do you have a computer?’”
    The Y2K fear is that computers will shut down on Jan. 1, 2000 because they will read the date as Jan. 1, 1900.
Tim Warner, a spokesman for the SEC, said Hinzman’s response was “not sufficient.” An SEC rule requires all brokers to become Y2K compliant, he said. “We brought an action against his firm and 36 others,” Warner said. “The rule did not say whether or not you have a computer.”
    Hinzman’s company, Allegheny Financial Programs, once had 17 part-time salesmen, and he still has between 400 and 500 customers, Hinzman said. Nonetheless, he estimates there are only about half a dozen small firms like his still in operation. Hinzman and his daughter run the company from his home. “All dealers have to be compliant. You need an attorney to be up on it all and we’re too small to have an attorney,” he said.
    Hinzman will not face any more action on the Y2K matter, but he is required to fill out a second Y2K form this month, and a new rule requires all brokers to have an e-mail address, Warren said.
    Hinzman thinks all the rules are an unreasonable ploy to “put the little guy out of business.” “But, I’m not ready to quit,” he said. “They don’t scare me.”
    Hinzman paid his fine and has gone on with his business, this time with a computer. He bought one in January so he wouldn’t have to face more fines for not having an e-mail address, and he turned the latest SEC form over to his daughter to fill out. “We were treated shabbily,” he said. “They ought to change the SEC to KGB.”