PRINCETON — Having West Virginia’s governor stop by and present $50,000 is good, but getting a chance to meet his dog and pet her made the day even better for an elementary school’s students.

Gov. Jim Justice and his English bulldog, Babydog, paid a visit Tuesday morning to Mercer Elementary School and presented the students and staff with a $50,000 check as winners in the West Virginia Department of Education’s (WVDE) I Got Vaxxed Competition.

“I love this and I love being with the kids. It’s great stuff,” Justice said from the auditorium’s stage. He looked to Babydog, who was sitting next to him and looking at the audience. “And this little thing here loves you, too. This face has got to make you smile, doesn’t it? She loves everybody. She really does. Everybody.”

Enduring a pandemic makes having somebody that makes you smile even more important, he told the students.

“Think about this. Through all this pandemic, we’ve had to wear a mask, and a lot of people really got sick. In all of that, it’s been tough. It’s been tough on all of us. But with that, how could there be anything better than something that makes you smile and something that tells us she loves everybody?” Justice said.

Mercer Elementary School became a winner in WVDE’s I Got Vaxxed Competition when more than 98 percent of its staff and faculty became vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Principal Kelli Stanley.

“This was based on the staff that were vaccinated,” she said after the presentation. The school has a staff of about 40 people. The contest was started before COVID vaccines were approved for children, so they were not included.

Stanley said that getting vaccinated was a personal decision for the school’s staff, and that it was not mandated.

Mercer Elementary plans to use their winnings to expand their after-school programs, to offer more opportunities for things such helping students learn robotics, helping their Running Club, helping to expand their playground allowing for more group exercise options during daily recess time and purchasing health tools like a healthy mouth or a life-sized skeleton.

“I think it’s incredible for Ms. Stanley to utilize these funds to help students,” said Edward T. Toman, superintendent of Mercer County Schools. “We appreciate the DOE and the governor for their supporting the faculty for getting vaccinated.”

After the check presentation, the Mercer Elementary School Choir performed “God Bless America” for the governor and Babydog. Some group pictures were taken with Justice and his dog, then the students got to come up on stage a class at a time and give Babydog the things that she loves, pets and attention.

The I Got Vaxxed Competition was announced by Justice and the WVDE to encourage eligible school-aged children, faculty, and staff to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Through the competition, a total of 12 public and private schools – four elementary schools, four middle schools, and four high schools – with the largest percentage of eligible vaccinated staff and students will each win $50,000 to use for activities or initiatives which will improve the student experience. To encourage full participation, students were polled to have input on how they would like the funds to be used.

After the WVDE initially launched the program offering prizes of $25,000 for winning schools, Justice said that he supplemented the competition’s funding, increasing the prize award to $50,000 to further encourage school communities to participate.

Contact Greg Jordan at

Contact Greg Jordan at

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