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'Reconnecting McDowell' Partnership Backs Laptops for Rural Students

Every middle school student in a rural West Virginia district in the midst of a comprehensive reform effort will receive a free laptop this fall.

That's some of the latest back-to-school news for Reconnecting McDowell, which is the American Federation of Teachers-led partnership of more than 100 public and private groups working to improve McDowell County schools. The initiative, launched in December 2011, aims to improve the school district, as well as the surrounding community.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a news release that the goal of the laptop program is to include elementary and high school students during the next four years.

"These laptops are a way of leveling the playing field so that students in rural Appalachia have many of the same advantages as students anywhere else in the country," she said.

Improving students' access to technology is one of the partnership's major goals. Students often haven't had adequate Internet access at home or at school.

The $237,000 for the 875 laptops comes from two sources: West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin gave $118,000 from the state's share of the Appalachian Regional Commission funds, and Connect2Compete matched it with $119,000. Laptops will be kept at the middle schools until families have received training, security chips have been installed, and students' homes have wireless capabilities.

Every McDowell County school has been wired with expanded broadband, and nearly 10,000 county homes also have been wired and offered reduced Internet rates for those with school-aged children. Both projects were completed by Reconnecting McDowell partners.

Tomblin said in the release that he believes in Reconnecting McDowell and the potential it has to improve children's lives, which was why he supported this laptop project. Tomblin serves as the 2013 state's co-chair for the Appalachian Regional Commission, which was one of the major funders of the laptops. Nine other projects statewide also will receive a share of $4.3 million from the ARC program grants, according to The State Journal.

This school year will be the first in more than a decade that the state released control of the school district back to the county school board.

The AFT cited other ongoing efforts in McDowell County, such as:


  • Plans to turn Southside K-8 School into the county's first community school, which means community organizations and agencies would be on site to provide health, social, and academic intervention services to students and their families;

  • Organizing of the McDowell Expo, which will be Oct. 4-5 and will offer attendees jobs, training, and services;

  • Recruitment of more would-be teachers into the county (the county has at least 30 teacher vacancies this year);

  • Professional development for all McDowell County teachers in October on bullying and anti-social behavior.

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