Sholten Singer/The Herald-Dispatch Eight-year-old Shannon Burton, right, and his mother Tiffany Burton, left, meet his 2nd grade teacher Allison Farley, center, during Guyandotte Elementary School's “Meet and Greet Night” on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019, in Huntington.

HUNTINGTON - It was called "Meet and Greet Night," but Tuesday night's open house at Guyandotte Elementary School was more than a standard pre-first day orientation.

There were a lot more moving parts beyond students and parents finding their new classrooms and meeting their new teachers for the coming year.

A handful of representatives from outside community resources lined an already packed gym. Free back-to-school haircuts were styled right on the gym floor by SmartStyle Salon in Huntington. Dress for Success offered clothing assistance for students headed back to class.

It's all particularly meaningful considering Guyandotte Elementary is a Title I school, meaning they receive additional federal aid for serving a disproportionate percentage of impoverished students.

Strengthening that community relationship is important for any school, said Principal Mike Krenzel.

"It's a big deal to create positive relationships from the home to the school," Krenzel said. "And it's really great to see the community come in and support us like this."

Guyandotte is one of five schools in Cabell County that will now have a Communities In Schools (CIS) site coordinator in the building each school day - part of an ongoing pilot project in 11 counties in West Virginia expanding this school year.

CIS trains and places site coordinators at schools in need, five days a week, to connect students with available community resources for whatever they may need - described as a fluid combination of a social worker, counselor and a graduation coach.

Megan Woods, Guyandotte's new site coordinator, already has a slate of plans for the school, chiefly starting a support group for grandparents who are now raising their grandchildren (a common occurrence in communities ravaged by the opioid epidemic) and creating more accountability for student attendance by making home visits and frequent phone calls. Other plans include starting a couponing class for families and a free health fair to provide flu vaccinations for students.

"If they don't have the things that they need at home, they're not going to want to come to school and learn," Woods said.

The biggest draw, however, was the free hot dog dinner grilled up by on-duty officers from the Huntington Police Department - wieners and buns donated by Farley's and Heiner's, respectively.

For Patrolman David Malcomb, late shifts are typically strange, but grilling bundles of hot dogs was an odd yet welcome change of pace.

For children, seeing officers in that softer capacity can make seeing them in the worst of times more bearable, Chief Hank Dial added.

"Anytime we can have a positive contact with kids - or anybody in the community - it helps when negative things happen," Dial said.

Cabell County's first day of school is Wednesday, Aug. 14.


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