PATCH 21 is an educational programming organization located in Spencer, West Virginia, that helps educate children of all ages in different areas including a focus on character education, tobacco/drug/alcohol prevention, civic duty and service learning, clean water awareness, healthy lifestyle, entrepreneurial job skills, and leadership.
PATCH currently offers 94 educational opportunities not only for children but for adults in the community, as well. The program spans throughout three counties in West Virginia, including Roane County, where the city of Spencer is located.
The school system provides students with eight hours of academics, but PATCH aims to supplement that education with social, emotional, and behavioral aspects.
Executive Director Dave McCutcheon has been working for PATCH since 2003. McCutcheon jumped at the opportunity to give back to the community and hasn’t looked back since.
“It fit my desire to want to help my community,” he said.
The organization continues to grow with help from the staff that is passionate about the work they are doing for the community.
“We started with myself and a college student the first summer, and now we are at 300 part-time employees, 50 full-time employees, and roughly 40 high school and college students we hire part-time,” McCutcheon added.
PATCH offers three different aspects for the community: after-school programs, daycare, and community development. Each plays a vital role in providing education and skills to benefit the children of the community.
McCutcheon explained that the main goals of the after-school programs are to keep the kids safe, help working parents, and provide educational enrichment.
According to McCutcheon, their data shows the most at-risk time for kids to try drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and participate in other at-risk behaviors is between 3:15 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.
“If we can keep kids busy and monitor during those times with a good role model, caring adult, teaching them basic life skills … then we can alleviate all of that risk, just by having a safe place for kids to be,” he said.
PATCH is proving to be effective in the county; McCutcheon said that Roane County High School just saw its highest graduation and attendance rate, and lowest dropout rate in history. As he stated, the 2018 high school graduating class was the first kindergarten class PATCH had in their program.
Data from PATCH also shows that drug, alcohol, and tobacco use has plummeted in kids by about 40%; along with a significant decrease in teen pregnancy, as well.
“These at-risk behaviors are declining substantially in our community,” McCutcheon said.
He expressed how starting kids from the community in the PATCH program at a young age is key. There are three daycares, two of which are located within the county.
The daycares are community-run, with low fees to help support parents who may be pursuing a college degree or who otherwise need extra help.
The community development aspect of PATCH mainly focuses on improving the state’s health and fitness issues. According to America’s Health Rankings, West Virginia is ranked number one in both obesity and heart disease. In fact, McCutcheon said he has seen the stats for child obesity grow worse with time.
“Two years ago, 1 in 4 (kindergarten-aged kids) came to kindergarten as diagnosed as clinically obese … and now, we went to 1 in 3,” he said.
But PATCH isn’t letting the decline of health in West Virginia discourage their mission; rather they are now more than ever determined to create a positive change in health in their state.
PATCH is working to educate their students on healthy eating by doing a microgreen project. The microgreens that they grow in their facility are used for meals that are provided to their students. Healthy eating is one important topic that PATCH is currently delving into because of these recurring health issues.
“It’s exciting to be on the cusp of that turn for our food and the aspects of our community in relation to food,” McCutcheon said.
Not only is PATCH inspiring their own students to eat healthier, but their platform is reaching students across the state and beyond. High school and college groups have been gathering to see how the organization is running their microgreen project. They also provide an adult workshop to show how the microgreen process works.
Along with the physical and social aspects of PATCH, the organization focuses heavily on the mental and emotional health of the students. A newer program called Happy Girl Healthy Girl is provided to young girls with the opportunity to be in a positive environment and learn how to support each other through physical and mental strength.
PATCH 21 is unique in many ways, but another interesting component is that students are now coming full circle to help give back to the program and the community that helped them. Zack Zdanek, director of the organization, explained how the program is starting to see high school graduates and college students return as employees who were students in the program growing up.
“They (former students) end up giving back to us by offering to give services at other schools or volunteering for our summer soccer program, or they just end up being parents who now bring their own children to the program,” Zdanek said.
Both Zdanek and McCutcheon expressed how wonderful it is to see their students come full circle and give back to the community.
PATCH 21 proves that when you are passionate and caring with educating children and young adults, you can make a real difference in the development of their character and instill a love for giving back to your community.