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'Reconnecting McDowell' Creates Internships for Rural High Schoolers

The public-private collaborative project 'Reconnecting McDowell' will launch an internship program this year in an attempt to expose high school students from McDowell County, W.Va, the poorest county in the state, to college and career opportunities in Charleston, W. Va., and Washington.

The project, which is led by the American Federation of Teachers, has partnered with 125 nonprofits, government agencies, and private companies since its inception in 2011. The organizations are attempting to find solutions to challenges in McDowell County, like poverty, failing schools, and housing shortages.

The new three-year internship program is supported by a $300,000 contribution from AT&T, and will allow students to participate in college campus visits, job shadow programs, and speak regularly with a mentor outside of the county.

"This program fulfills a very important goal of Reconnecting McDowell—to give young people positive choices and opportunities that can put them on the road to success," said Gayle Manchin, the chairwoman of Reconnecting McDowell and the president of the West Virginia State Board of Education, in a statement.

A recent article in The New York Times highlighted the many challenges for students in McDowell County, where 46 percent of children do not live with their biological parents, and the median income is only $22,000. Only about 4 percent of adults 25 years or older have a  bachelor's degree according to census data, compared to about 18 percent nationwide.

Earlier this year, Reconnecting McDowell provided free laptops to middle school students in an effort to increase technology access. Last year, the project's board of directors approved a plan to build a "teacher village" in the county that will provide housing for teachers in the rural district. Nationwide, a lack of adequate housing in rural communities often hurts teacher retention and recruitment efforts.  

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