The Morgantown Marriott at Waterfront Place was campaign headquarters this week in an ongoing war on intellect that was mainly started by COVID-19.
Said war is for the benefit of young minds in classrooms.
Young minds trying to get locked back onto reading and math, specifically.
Test scores in both those subjects dropped drastically at the height of the pandemic three years ago and haven’t rebounded much since then.
As COVID cases began layering and deaths started to mount, schools here were shuttered, leaving students — their teachers, too — in the unfamiliar territory of total remote learning.
Scores plummeted from Washington, D.C., to Wyoming and West Virginia.
They even dropped in Monongalia County’s school district, which traditionally fares better than most of its neighbors in the Mountain State.
Meanwhile at the Marriott, some 700 educators in those subjects from across West Virginia dug in for the second-annual INVEST conference, hosted by the state Department of Education.
The conference wrapped up Thursday.
INVEST stands for: Infuse, Network, Value, Engage, Support and Target. Its goal, organizers of the conference said, was to do just that.
It’s a tie-in with Ready, Read, Write, West Virginia, the literacy campaign launched last year by the department — along with the UNITe with Numeracy Initiative, which also came forth from Charleston last year.
Monongalia County Schools already has the “engage” part of the conference down, through work coming from a veteran math teacher in the district and a young literacy advocate and 2023 Morgantown High School graduate bound for Yale this fall.
For Monica McCartney, the math coach for Mon’s district, it’s a matter of making a subject that’s as logical as can be — there’s either a right answer or a wrong answer in the midst of those columns and equations — as real-world as can be.
That’s with subtracting a sentence, she said, that does people in, whether it’s the first day of math class at school or a harried mom or dad trying to help with their kid’s homework.
“But I’m not a math person,” is the universal cry.
“Yeah, I get that a lot,” she said previously.
“Not true. Everyone’s a math person.”
To make yourself understand that you really are one also, she said, get behind the wheel of your car, with an old-school road atlas in the passenger seat to go with the GPS.
“The GPS is going to tell you, turn-by-turn, how to get where you’re going,” she said.
“And at the end, you’re going to have no idea how you got there.”
In contrast, she said, that 20th-century road map, with its squiggles, irregular borders and blue lines, will set your brain’s synapses to firing like the pistons in your car.
You’ve made connections along the way, she said.
“That’s how a math teacher sees the world.”
Rania Zuri, who co-founded a literacy advocacy program while in school that has garnered national and international acclaim, got behind the wheel last summer to travel to all 55 Head Start offices in West Virginia.
Her mission was to meet with every director in every county office of the enrichment agency that was part of President Johnson’s War on Poverty in 1964.
The goal was to get books into the hands of impressionable youngsters who might not have them otherwise.
Besides opening the door to the simple joy a good book can bring, literacy also means intellectual development.
“If you can read,” the future Ivy Leaguer says, “you can learn.”