WELLSBURG — A Brooke High School teacher who has applied his experience working in the private sector to helping students prepare for the workforce was among several staff and students recognized by the Brooke County Board of Education on Monday.
It’s been a good year for Thomas Bane, who has been named both Brooke County Schools’ Teacher of the Year and West Virginia SKILLS USA adviser of the Year.
Bane, who teaches engineering at the high school, had worked as a computer programmer and financial analyst, among other positions, in Southern Florida when he was drawn to a small ad for a teaching position at a private school.
The Burgettstown native had remembered learning math from Marge Cowden, a fourth-grade teacher at the former Eldersville Elementary School, and being able to help classmates with their work.
“Because of her influence, I became an engineer and a teacher,” said Bane, now in his 23rd year in teaching.
After teaching at the private school, he was able to use his workforce experience and graduate credits from Marshall University to get positions as a career technical educator first in Mingo County, W.Va., and later, Brooke High School, where he has been employed for five years.
Since coming to the school, he has served as adviser for the school’s chapter of SKILLS USA, a national organization that encourages students to develop personal and professional skills that will benefit them in their future careers.
Under Bane and co-adviser Autumn Beatty, the chapter became the first in West Virginia to be named a Model of Excellence by the national organization.
He said that honor is the result of the hard work of past and present students in the chapter.
Bane noted about five members primarily in the engineering program worked to recruit others, building the club’s membership to 40 students enrolled in nine career preparation programs at the high school.
Members have competed in a variety of competitions at the regional, state and national levels.
At the state SKILLS USA conference held at Fairmont State University in March, gold medals were won by Alexis Woodling, for her knowledge of first aid/cardiopulmonary resuscitation; and Kyrsten Myers, for her knowledge of early children education.
Other state winners from the school were: Thomas Olenick, who earned a bronze medal for technical drafting; and Izabella Jordan, who won a silver medal for medical terminology.
The categories reflect the broad range of professional skills learned by students in the group, which is incorporated into the school’s career technical education program.
But Bane said involvement in it also teaches students about leadership, teamwork and community service.
He said the Brooke SKILLS USA chapter ranked among the top eight in the nation for its leadership training activities. He added that at at a time when the pandemic limited most students’ school participation to virtual instruction at home, members collected about 1,000 canned goods and toiletries for Urban Mission Ministries in Steubenville and teamed with the school’s Technology Students of America chapter to participate in the Adopt-a-Highway program.
Bane said as a teacher and adviser, he sees his role as a guide in helping students to master skills and pursue goals as a group.
“They make the decisions. My job is to help them along the way,” he said, adding, “It’s all the kids. It’s my job to be their cheerleader.”
Bane said he was honored to be nominated for the county’s teacher of the year by colleagues at Brooke High School, which he said has many dedicated and caring teachers.
Superintendent Jeffrey Crook and the school board also recognized Theresa “T.J.” Taylor, an aide at Brooke Primary North, as the district’s Service Personnel Member of the Year.
The honor goes to staff who support schools’ operations as secretaries, nurses, bus drivers and in other non-teaching positions.
Jo-Ellen Connolly, the school’s principal, said Taylor has displayed a high level of care for the special needs students with whom she has worked at the school since 2013.
“She loves it so much. She’s so passionate about the kids that she’s attending West Liberty University to earn a degree in special education,” said Connolly.
“I would love to be a special education teacher,” confirmed Taylor, who also has worked as a substitute for the school district.
She said she became interested in working with students with special needs as a youth through a nanny who had worked with them.
The board also recognized Lorelei Costlow, an eighth grader at Brooke Middle School who placed first at the regional level of the West Virginia Social Studies Fair and third among hundreds of students competing at the state level.
Ryan Garbin, her teacher, said Costlow and other middle school students were invited to deliver a talk and visual presentation, as an individual or team, on any topic related to social studies and were required to document their resources.
He said there were a wide range of subjects, from the Black Plague, which was discussed by Costlow, to the history of women’s soccer, which was covered by fellow Brooke Middle students Andrea Bolen and Ivy Myers, who also participated in the regional event, which involved schools throughout the Northern Panhandle.
Costlow included in her presentation a map charting the many areas affected by the plague and a leather mask worn by doctors with a distinctive bird-like beak that contained herbs intended to filter out infected air.
School officials also noted Brooke Middle School has been named a Distinguished Gateway School by Project Lead the Way, a national, nonprofit organization that provides curriculum to schools designed to encourage student interest in science, technology, engineering and math.
Project Lead the Way units include automation and robots, creation of computer apps, energy and the environment, flight and space, green architecture and medical detectives.
Brooke Middle is one of 134 schools across the U.S. to receive the honor because they offer at least one unit for grades 6-8, more than 50 percent of their student bodies participated in a unit during the 2020-21 school year, and at least 25 percent of their students participated in two units.
The school’s participation in the program is coordinated by faculty members Keith Huntzinger, Amy Ludewig, Julie Dennis and Kim Nielsen.
Ludewig said, “We are so pleased with this honor. We have worked with the county board of education office to ensure our students are offered a wide array of electives that will connect to building a strong foundation for high school, college and careers.”
In other business, the board accepted a bid of $125,932 from Lauttamus Communications and Security to replace the electronic key entry system for all county schools. Steve Mitchell, the district’s buildings and grounds supervisor, said the current system will become obsolete.
The board also accepted a bid of $326,860 from Combustion Services and Equipment Co. to update the district’s countywide computer-run heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.
(Scott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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