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Rural W.Va. District Combats Community Woes Through Partnership

This week, PBS Newshour is airing Learning Matters TV's two-part series on the rural schools in McDowell County, the poorest county in West VirginiaIn the first part, which ran Tuesday evening, the program explored the many challenges facing the county's schools, which serve about 3,500 children.

Nearly 80 percent of students in McDowell County qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and residents of the county face a host of challenges, including poverty, drug abuse, and high imprisonment rates. The median income is only $22,000 according to U.S. Census data.

As it works to tackle its greatest challenges, such as attracting and keeping qualified teachers, the district also focuses on more basic issues that can have a big payoff. One such issue, according to Florisha McGuire, principal of McDowell County's Southside Elementary, is boredom. In rural areas like McDowell County, there are few activities for students outside of school. "Statistics tell us and research tells us, when we have students that are involved in activities, they're less likely to get involved in drugs, and less likely to get involved in those negative personal habitats," McGuire told Learning Matters.

Although schools have attempted to fill that void by offering after-school and weekend programs, as well as team sports, participation has been low. McGuire said that the district is hopeful that the public-private partnership, Reconnecting McDowell, will boost opportunities and, ultimately, participation.

That project, which is led by the American Federation of Teachers and has partnerships with more than 125 nonprofits, government agencies, and private companies, has already provided internships for high school students, purchased property to create apartment-style housing for educators, and backed efforts to provide free laptops to middle school students.  According to Learning Matters, the partnership is also hoping to provide social services, like counseling.

Check out the first part of the series below, which also delves into teacher shortages and the lack of housing options. The second part of the series will air tonight on PBS Newshour. 

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