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Behind the scenes of Groundhog Day event

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow last Friday and announced six more weeks of winter. But the annual Groundhog Day event took much more than just Phil’s appearance to become a reality.

Punxsutawney Groundhog Club Executive Director Katie Donald says the planning begins almost as soon as the previous year’s event ends. A wrap up meeting is likely to take place Monday in which the club discusses all the feedback, both positive and negative. They will determine how to correct any negative experiences for the next year’s event and how to maintain those events bringing positive comments.

The planning and preparations take many volunteers and organizations to make the holiday event such a success each year. Donald said without the various groups, including Punxsutawney Borough, Punxsutawney Borough Police Department, the Pennsylvania State Police, Punxsutawney Hospital and Jefferson County Emergency Management, the club would be no where in planning the event.

The state police, she noted, has a set plan it follows. The PSP knows how many troopers it needs to schedule for the event to provide safety for everyone attending the event in an effective and efficient manner.

Along with state and borough police departments, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, the county Emergency Management office and the 911 center are also on board to make the event as safe as possible.

Jefferson County Department of Emergency Services Director Tracy Zents and his staff, along with the Northwest Central Task Force, are there to offer support for state and local police. The Task Force consists of Emergency Management agencies in six counties – Jefferson, Clearfield, Clarion, Elk, Cameron and McKean. Through this partnership, equipment is brought into Punxsutawney, such as camera trailers, light trailers, tents, etc. The lights help illuminate areas for safety, as well as those directing traffic at several traffic points. Zents noted that the 911 center is also tied in and can make them aware of any emergency response.

Set-up takes a good portion of a day to ensure everything is in place and ready for the Phil’s Groundhog Day Prognostication event. A command post is set up at the Lindsey Fire Company on Mahoning Street. From there contact can be made to each area where emergency management volunteers from Clarion, Clearfield and Jefferson counties are stationed. With the cameras they can watch the crowds at several locations and alert police to any trouble before it begins. This year, Zents said they were also monitoring the weather closely as the forecast was calling for slick roads during the 3-8 a.m. time frame.

They also set up a warming tent and a medical tent at Gobbler’s Knob. Knowing that temperatures were expected to drop, Zents noted the warming tent allowed those awaiting Phil’s appearance at Gobbler’s Knob to get warm. The medical tent was being manned by doctors and nurses from Punxsutawney Hospital. Such a precaution is needed for as Zents explained, the traffic is one-way from 3-8 a.m. along the route to Gobbler’s Knob. If they had to call an ambulance for a medical emergency it would take it 45 minutes round trip to get from the hospital, up to the Knob and back to the hospital. Having the tent means on-site medical care if it is needed.

However, the setup day doesn’t just happen. By the middle of October, Zents says they have identified the needed resources for the event and by the first part of January commitments of resources are set and the last two weeks prior to the event, equipment begins to come in. The light trailers used at this year’s events arrived only two days before the event. They had been in use in another county because of an electric outage at a federal prison. If they had still been needed there, Zents said they would have reached out to other task force groups such as Northwest Task Force that includes other counties’ EMS departments.

Not only is early planning key, but Donald said they put themselves in the mindset of “how visitors or travelers think.” In doing so they plan events to take place the day prior or after Groundhog Day to meet the needs of these groups. While visitors may be in town for Groundhog Day, the club seeks to give them a couple of days of events they can enjoy. A traveler, however, may be passing through the day before or after and not be able to attend the function at Gobbler’s Knob. So the club also makes sure there are several instances where Punxsutawney Phil makes an appearance. They also plan family events and things for kids to do.

Nowadays there is also a website and social media to plan out. Updates on Phil, where he is going to be, and so much more has to be uploaded so that those who cannot get to Punxsutawney can still be a part of the festivities. The website, Donald said, gets more than a million visitors on Feb. 2. Planning for the day, Donald noted, includes having enough servers ready for the internet traffic so if one server crashes the website is still online. The website is also updated immediately after Phil gives his prognostication.

Donald noted that Groundhog Day is for the local residents as well as residents of the county and surrounding area. The event is a great economic boost for the entire region, as visitors stay in area hotels, eat at area restaurants and purchase gas or shop in the region also.

It takes a team behind the scenes to make Phil’s big moment a reality each year.

Zents and Donald agree that its a great team, which includes club members, volunteers, partners, municipalities, emergency service agencies, police and so many more. So while Phil has returned to his Burrow and the visitors have all gone home. The team will soon be back to work reviewing this year’s event and planning the next.

Photo courtesy of Larry Anthony 

Andy Corbett, back right, and a group of his friends from the University of Virginia, who also are members of the Gamma Chi Omega fraternity were at Gobbler’s Knob Friday to see Punxsutawney Phil. They said that 80 percent of their fraternity members went into the military. The group attending the annual Punxsutawney festivities have two purple heart awardees and two bronze star members among them.

Program goal: Support students’ success
Three days sparks new program to connect parents with school, teachers

A group of teachers and administrators went to the P-3 Governor’s Institute last summer that focused on P-3 collaboration: Working together for student success. The P-3 stands for pre-school to third grade.

The three-day event enabled them to identify needs and strengths specific to their school, Brookville Principal Ruthanne Barbazzeni said. The team identified the school’s strongest need as parent involvement and parent connections. Then they were asked to figure out how they would meet the need if they had all the tools. This started the team thinking of how they would connect the community with the school.

Barbazzeni said many parents are reluctant to get involved or are possibly intimidated for whatever reason. The team had to think of a way to break through such barriers and fuel more communication between the school district and parents.

In three days the team identified the most important need, developed a strategy to meet that need and began planning for its implementation. Donuts & Dialog was born.

The program

Donuts & Dialog provides an informal, relaxed atmosphere for parents come to the school and meet with teachers and principals. They can discuss concerns they have and share information about what’s going on in their lives that may make being involved during a school day difficult. Teachers can share what is going on in the classrooms.

Barbazzeni said she along with the teachers each shared their personal backgrounds. But then they opened the floor to discussion with the parents because they wanted to “talk with” them and not “at” them.

Some of the topics have been how to help a student at home with the “new” math or whether a parent should push to finish homework or not pressure the student. They’ve also discussed attendance issues as well as school and state rules, and how to promote anti-bullying.

Barbazzeni notes that it has been a slow process. There were a handful of parents at the first one and two handfuls at the next one. Each session has grown as word spreads and parents understand what these sessions are all about.

The parents are surveyed as to time of day for the session and topics of discussion. So far it’s been all positive feedback, Barbazzeni says. There is even interest in the school holding some mini workshops for parents on topics such as helping their student with math or learning what students are doing in third grade.

The next Donuts & Dialog will be in April, right after Easter.

The underlying theme is the parents and the school working together for the student’s success. But the connection doesn’t stop with just the school and the parents.

Connecting parents
to community agencies

Another phase of the project is to connect the community with the parents and the schools, especially the service agencies. Barbazzeni noted that teachers are usually more acquainted with these community agencies. The schools can connect with the service agencies and parents can connect with schools. This enables teachers to make parents aware of agencies whose services they may need. In the long run it all supports the student and helps them be successful.

Third phase
– transitioning students

A third phase of supporting students’ success is in helping them transition from one grade level to the next.

The district successfully does so with students entering high school. Older students at the high school are matched up with incoming eighth grade students. They are referred to as Bigs and the younger students as Buds. Students receive a copy of their schedule and are able to do a trial run to each of their scheduled classes to know where those classrooms are located, how to traverse from class to class, and meet the teacher in each room. Thus they can connect the room to the subject taught and the subject to the teacher, Barbazzeni says.

Pairing the younger kids up with an older student also means they always have someone to ask questions of and who is looking out for them. On the flip side, the older students need to always be good role models for the younger students.

That success had Barbazzeni thinking of using the program in P-3 grades as those students transition into a new school buildings. Instead of taking weeks to acclimatize to a new school building the student could instead concentrate on their academics. To that end, the district literally shows them the differences and what the expectations may be in the new grade level/school thereby making students feel comfortable from day one.

Since the elementary to high school works so well, the district decided to do the same in the elementary schools from one building level to another, Barbazzeni said. Preschool is at Pine Creek Elementary and kindergarten is at Northside Elementary. So preschool students were invited to come to Northside before the school year began to meet teachers and see the school. Barbazzeni noted that they made it a fun day for the students. They repeat this “bridge” for kindergarten students returning to Pine Creek for first grade, for second graders at Pine Creek going to third grade at Hickory Grove Elementary.

The district began these “transitions” last summer and they were a great success. The events were social and fun with games and snacks, tours of the school, and getting acquainted with the teachers. So how did it affect the first day of school last fall. Barbazzeni says the first day went very smooth. It wasn’t traumatizing to the students as going into a new school can be for young children.

Barbazzeni noted that a goal of the program is to keep the base of parent involvement with their student going at the high school level once it’s begun at the elementary level. She said it’s important for parents to be part of the child’s education. By providing encouragement and holding students accountable they are assisting in the longterm goal of helping students to become good citizens, to learn to work together, to use their own initiative, to take responsibility and have a strong work ethic.

While the program is just getting started, sustaining may be difficult. The team was able to get a one-time $10,000 grant that paid for substitute teachers to free up the K-3 teachers to take part in the Donuts and Dialog with parents. The money also went for invitation materials and, of course, donuts. Barbazzeni said the largest cost is paying for the substitute teachers. She says the Donuts and Dialog program will need about $6,000 and the transition events about $1,000 total for all the levels combined. While the district is brainstorming how to come up with the amounts, Barbazzeni noted she would not say no if a business wanted to help sponsor the program. Today’s students are tomorrow’s workforce so it is actually an investment for business and industry as much as it is for the school district.

Borough Council tables discussion on redistricting issue

Brookville resident Carole Briggs addressed borough council Tuesday night on behalf of Fair Districts PA in regards to gerrymandering.

She was requesting that council give its support for the formation of a citizen redistricting committee in Pennsylvania by approving resolution 544-18 in support of legislative efforts to amend the state Constitution. She noted that 14 counties and 144 municipalities had already given approval for the formation of such a committee.

The group she was representing advocates the appointment of an “impartial, independent citizens commission to direct the redistricting process in 2020.

Solicitor Jim Dennison, asked his opinion on the subject, noted that he was giving his personal opinion, not legal advice. He said while he is not for or against the issue is a personal one to many people. Noting that council is elected to represent all of the borough citizens, he said he did not believe that borough council was the right venue for it, suggesting that people should contact Rep. Cris Dush or Sen. Joe Scarnati to voice their opinion on what should be done.

Newly appointed Councilman Randy Bartley said as the issue was not yet settled in the courts, he’d hesitate to act on it at this time and suggested tabling the issue.

Council decided to go along with Bartley’s suggestion and did in fact table any further discussion on the issue. Bartley did comment that tabling the issue meant it could be brought up at a later date.

Special event permits

Council approved two special event permits.

The first was for Light Up Brookville, scheduled to be held Nov. 23, and the second was for Relay of Life, planned for 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Aug. 4 in the town square, with 150 people expected.

New fees for tax collector

At the request of the borough tax collector, council approved resolution 543-18 that establishes a non-sufficient funds as well as a fee for copies and postage. With it’s approval the tax collector will be able to charge $50 for those checks that are returned for insufficient funds and will charge 25-cents per copy for any requests for copies plus the cost of postage.

Police Department report

Tuesday was police Chief Jason Brown’s last council meeting before his retirement. He noted that the department had 1,231 service calls in January. Of those calls he highlighted the water rescue in January of a man found in Sandy Lick Creek.

Brown said Brookville Borough Police Officer Mick Stormer and Jefferson County Deputy sheriffs Sam Bartley and Mark Humes received a departmental commendation and David Harris, of Reynoldsville, received a citizens commendation, for their actions on Jan. 28.

Fire Department report

It was also a busy month for the Brookville Volunteer Fire Company. There were 31 calls that break down to four structure fires, four activated alarms, a vehicle fire, two flooded basements, a carbon monoxide alarm, a tree down, 10 motor vehicle accidents, two police department assists, four EMS assists, one landing zone, and one water rescue.

The officers of the fire department are also asking motorists that when an emergency vehicle is approaching to please pull over to the right and stop, not slow down and continue. It was noted that more and more the fire company is having some minor issues with people not getting out of the way.

The new ladder truck is expected to be completed Feb. 26. Once it’s complete, members of the fire company will travel to the Wisconsin factory to inspect the truck. After that final inspection, the truck will go to Zelinople, Pa., to another manufacturing facility where mounting brackets and accessories will mounted on the truck before the fire company takes delivery of it at the end of March.

Snow removal

Dave Vallosio, director of Public Works, noted that in January the department used 84 hours of overtime because of snowstorms and has already logged 34 hours of overtime this month. Other than that, Vallosio noted that crews were ready for the snow and freezing rain forecast for Wednesday.

Along with the street snow removal, sidewalks were also discussed. Donald Jonischek, code enforcement officer, noted that they are trying to keep sidewalks clean. He said if anyone has any problem getting their snow remove to give him a call at anytime.

Council ended its meeting by going into an executive session on personnel. Council president Phil Hynes said he wasn’t sure if there would be action taken or not after council reconvened following the executive session. He also noted that the closed meeting could be lengthy.

Deer tests positive for CWD in Pine Creek Township

BROOKVILLE — The body of a deer killed along Route 322, near Pine Creek Elementary School, has tested positive for Chronic Wasting Disease.

According to Jefferson County Treasurer Jim “Moon” VanSteenberg, the deer was found along the stretch of highway between the school and the Bob Olsen farm In Pine Creek Township.

Route 322 in Jefferson County is included in the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Disease Management Area (DMA) 3. The most recent report from the Game Commission says that 51 deer from the 2017-18 hunting seasons have tested positive for CWD. All have been within the DMAs. Forty-eight were within DMA 2, in southcentral Pennsylvania, and three were within DMA 3, which covers northcentral Pennsylvania.

With increased cases of CWD in the wild deer, the Game Commission is also increasing its testing. “There seems to be testing a lot of road kill,” VanSteenberg said.

During the past hunting season, the Game Commission offered free CWD testing for hunters harvesting deer within the DMAs. The free testing offered hunters a way to have their deer tested prior to consuming it, and it provided the Game Commission with additional samples to better pinpoint areas where the disease exists, so specific problem spots might be addressed.

Successful hunters within DMAs dropped off heads from more than 1,500 deer in designated boxes. About 1,000 of these samples already have been tested for CWD, with the results reported to hunters.

But the majority of samples collected still are being analyzed.

CWD is spread from deer to deer through direct and indirect contact. The disease attacks the brains of infected deer, elk and moose, and will eventually result in the death of the infected animal. There is no live test for CWD and no known cure. There also is no evidence CWD can be transmitted to humans, however, it is recommended the meat of infected deer — or deer thought to be sick — not be consumed.