Berkeley Heights Elementary School third-grader Cyrile Ngassa Ngakam told West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on Wednesday that he wanted Tomblin’s job.
“I asked him if he was going to be a lawyer. He said, ‘No, governor,’” said Tomblin, who presented Cyrile with the first of several pens that he used for the ceremonial signing of the West Virginia Feed to Achieve Act in the Martinsburg school’s cafeteria.
The 9-year-old Martinsburg youth was recognized as part of the inspiration for Senate Bill 663 by state Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley/Jefferson, who sponsored the bill in the West Virginia Legislature.
The legislation requires all schools to try to maximize participation in school meal programs and to take greater advantage of federal funding for them. It recommends programs such as “grab-and-go” breakfasts and eating breakfast in class, and sets up foundations in every county to collect private donations for the expanded programs.
Unger recounted how he had Berkeley Heights Elementary School students act as senators and delegates and propose changes at the school last fall when he visited to talk about how a bill becomes a law.
During a debate that ensued over whether to have an extra recess or an extra lunch, Unger said Cyrile stood up and said he was going to support the extra lunch proposal so his brother would have something to eat that night at home.
“And then, I said how many of you are in the same situation, and many of you raised your hands,” Unger said. “That’s where this all started.”
After the bill signing, Berkeley County businessman C.B. “Butch” Pennington presented a $1,000 check to Berkeley County Schools Superintendent Manny P. Arvon, saying he and his wife, Sherri, wanted to be the first to donate toward the “worthwhile project.”
“I wish it was 10 times that amount,” Pennington said.
Arvon said Wednesday that Berkeley Heights Elementary School is one of six county elementary schools where all students are served free breakfasts and lunches as part of a statewide pilot project.
Arvon said he also is pleased the legislation encourages school districts to buy locally and grow their own produce.
“We would like to have as much local food as local power,” Arvon said.
The Feed to Achieve legislation was among three bills that Tomblin signed Wednesday at ceremonial signing events in Martinsburg.
At the Martinsburg train station, Tomblin signed copies of Senate Bill 103, creating the West Virginia Commuter Rail Access Act in support of the MARC commuter train service in the Eastern Panhandle, and Senate Bill 596, which frees up to $100 million in state funding for wastewater treatment improvement projects in eastern West Virginia.
Tomblin commended state Sen. Herb Snyder’s work on the MARC legislation that requires West Virginia to establish a first-ever formal operating agreement with the state of Maryland, which runs the commuter rail service.
Snyder, who said the MARC train legislation was about 30 years in the making, thanked the state of Maryland for working with West Virginia over the years to provide MARC service in the Eastern Panhandle.
Tomblin said Senate Bill 596 allows funding to flow to Eastern Panhandle counties that are ready to proceed with wastewater treatment plant upgrades to meet Environmental Protection Agency standards, which are tied to Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts.
“The Eastern Panhandle has been much more aggressive in getting their act together over here, and that’s one of the main reasons for this bill that we’re signing here today,” Tomblin said.
Martinsburg officials have been told to expect about $16 million in state funding for the city’s wastewater plant upgrade project as a result of the legislation.