Van Wert School at the Goedde Hosts Third Annual Thanksgiving Feast
VAN WERT — Thursday was a big day for staff and students at the Goedde building.
They held their community Thanksgiving feast and dozens of parents, faculty, and community leaders were there.
So was a very special guest: Alisha Nelson, executive director of the One Ohio Recovery Foundation who was appointed by Governor DeWine earlier this year.
Nelson was invited to the feast and a tour of the building by Goedde director Rhonda Cunningham.
The Foundation is a private nonprofit created in the wake of the opioid settlements. Nelson and 29 board members oversee the distribution of 55% of those funds. Another 30% will take the form of direct payments to local governments, and 15% to the state of Ohio.
The purpose of those funds is to support substance abuse treatment/prevention and recovery efforts across the state.
“Rhonda was kind enough to extend an invitation,” Nelson said.
One Ohio Recovery supports initiatives like charter schools, and Nelson considered schools like the Goedde “a great example of what the One Ohio fund could be used for, and how communities can really come together to wrap their arms around the youth who have been impacted by substance use disorders, trauma…all the things we know are happening in Ohio,” she said.
“I wanted to see it in person,” she said. “It’s one thing to hear it, but to see it and see how happy the kids are and how engaged the teachers are — it’s good.”
The Goedde has undergone a transformation under Cunningham’s leadership.
When she took over three years ago two alternative schools had the second floor and part of the first, district offices were there, and the rest was used for storage. “The current Life Skills room was full of coolers — you couldn’t open the door,” said Superintendent Mark Bagley.
“When I came on board I said I wanted the whole building,” Cunningham said.
There’s now a student lounge, a craft room, a de-escalation room with punching dummies and workout gear, and a full-time counselor for the students.
The science class Nelson toured was exploring medieval siege weapons. One team of students was building a trebuchet, the other a catapult. The objective was to use both machines to lauch a pumpkin and see which was more effective, and why.
“We teach life skills,” Cunningham said. “We are a non-traditional public school and we bring a little of Vantage in. We’re not certified or licensed like Vantage is. We can’t do what they do, but we’re hands-on,” she said. Cunningham was a graduate of Vantage and understands the importance of trade skills for a future career.
The Goedde had a reputation for high-risk kids and bad behavior in the past, which is something Mark Bagley wanted to go beyond. “We’re making it more practical where these young men and women they come back to Van Wert with something productive to do, not Van Wert taking care of them. They take so much pride. These kids are coming back, it’s an investment,” he told Nelson.
“It’s not a punishment to come here,” agreed Assistant Superintendent Bob Priest, “it’s also not a reward to come here. A lot of students are experiencing success they’ve never had before. There’s a process for selection to go here, and it’s unique to the individual,” he said.
Goedde students come from Van Wert, Crestview, Lincolnview and Parkway. Most of them were credit-deficient or had problems with attendance because they felt lost in a classroom and elected to skip instead of asking for help.
Goedde instructors understand this, and teacher Ginny Marbaugh involves her students in tactile projects to speed their learning. She has seen this approach work, she tells Nelson, with students who would otherwise be bored by words on a printed page. “We try to keep it hands-on,” she said.
Marbaugh’s classroom was full of sugar skulls, paper Aztec pyramids and other decorations made by her students about with their subject of study: Mexico’s dia los muertes, or day of the dead. A glass case in the hallway was full of Mexican clothing, pictures and other mementos she and her students decorated.
“I love my job,” she told Nelson. “I love my students.”
Lunch was served at noon. It was all cooked by the students in the home economics classroom and included turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, rolls, pumpkin pie, blueberry pie, apple pie, peach pie, cheesecake and a choice of coffee or lemonade.
Bagley said the prayer: “God, we thank you for this day, this beautiful day outside. We thank you for all the people involved in this school. Bless this food and the hands that prepared it today. In your name we pray, amen.”
Rhonda Cunningham thanked everyone in attendance and noted that “the kids worked super hard to get this done.”
“Coming in here you just feel all the love,” Nelson said.