KENNA - Kenna Elementary School Principal Sonya White hosted a community celebration Tuesday honoring Delegates Chris Stansbury and Steve Westfall and Senator Mitch Carmichael and their instrumental support and continued commitment to shared use legislation. The event served as a kick off for the “Open for Summer” campaign, a statewide effort to encourage and recognize schools that are opening their facilities and transforming their spaces into recreation centers for the summer. The campaign is coordinated by the Shared Use Network, Our Children, Our Future Campaign, and the American Heart Association.

In 2015, the House and Senate, passed unanimous bi-partisan legislation that reduces the liability for schools that want to open up their doors after hours, or during the summer, for “shared use” purposes. Delegate Stansbury championed this policy, a crucial step toward increasing community access to schools’ outdoor or indoor facilities for recreation. Jackson County’s legislators, Westfall and Carmichael have supported the overall policy and worked locally with Superintendent of Schools Blaine Hess, school administration, parents and local business leaders to make Kenna Elementary’s innovative outdoor recreation and outdoor learning area, a cornerstone for the entire Kenna community.

An open gym and accessible outdoor facilities, like the playground at Kenna, affords a community lacking recreation facilities a safe place for physical activity. The 2015 law made it easier for schools to open their doors before and after school hours, weekends and most importantly during holidays and summer breaks.

Increasing access to physical activity is key to reversing some startling health statistics and getting West Virginia off the worst health lists:

* One in five West Virginia 11 year olds has high blood pressure.

* One in four 11 year olds has bad cholesterol.

* One in six kindergartners is obese. That means they are heavier than 95 percent of children their height and age in the national norm group.

White said she was proud to have Kenna Elementary School declare Jackson County Schools open for summer as recreation centers.

“We have many things going on at our school this summer  from dawn to dusk, including a student organized basketball league, exercise classes from youngsters, adults, senior citizens and an extreme workout group, outdoor games utilizing the top-flight facilities and equipment at Kenna Elementary. We’re proud of what we have here and are sharing it with our community.” 

“Our local legislators have been crucial to this much needed playground development. They have been truly hands-on. Without this space, our kids would not even have a safe place to ride their bikes,” said Deanna Cunningham, Kenna Elementary kindergarten teacher and parent who spearheaded the development effort.

“The community has embraced our effort here with parents, students, business partners, community members, 4-H and Scout groups pitching in to make our facilities everything they are. People of all ages are utilizing our recreation facilities, and items are being left out for everyone to enjoy at all times.

“We’re providing a safe place for fun and fitness activities, as well as helping to reduce substance abuse and the dropout rate and promoting a positive lifestyle. We’ve been able to create an amazing area for our community to enjoy.”

Tuesday’s event served as a kick off for a statewide awareness campaign to boost the number of school recreation centers through shared use. Our Children, Our Future Campaign and American Heart Association are partners in the effort to increase the numbers of school implementing shared use and increasing the physical activity of West Virginia residents of all ages.

“Open for Summer campaign is a way to highlight how open and accessible school grounds and recreation centers can improve the health of an entire community. I am blown away with the model that Kenna and Jackson County school system have created and excited to see this spread across the state” said Jennifer Wells, Our Children, Our Future Statewide Shared Use Campaign Coordinator.

Wells presented a special “Shared Use” symbol to White and Cunningham for display at Kenna Elementary, and similar gifts to Superintendent Hess, Delegate Westfall and Senator Carmichael.

Hess said he is proud of what has been accomplished at Kenna Elementary and at other schools in Jackson County in terms of “shared use,” and is grateful to Carmichael and Westfall for supporting legislation to relieve liability and push the effort forward in West Virginia. Hess said he is proud of the effort to address the challenges in rural areas to provide sharing of school facilities for outdoor activities promoting healthier lifestyles for all ages.

Carmichael said he is proud of what has and is being accomplished toward a more cohesive community.