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After Four Years, Progress Reported by 'Reconnecting McDowell'

The private-public partnership "Reconnecting McDowell" has helped to improve student achievement and wraparound services in McDowell County, W.Va. after four years of work, leaders of the initiative reported this week.

The partnership launched in 2011 to improve the quality of life in McDowell County, a remote, impoverished jurisdiction plagued by unemployment and drug abuse. The initiative is led by the American Federation of Teachers in partnership with 120 nonprofits, private companies, and government agencies, and is reportedly seeing progress in several areas. These include: 

  • A former K-8 school now serves as a community school that offers food programs and health care to all residents;
  • Mental-health services are offered at two locations in the community;
  • All schools are now visited by vans that provide dental services to students;
  • A 2015 state audit found all public schools in the county are "fully compliant" in terms of academic progress. The audit also reported that the dropout rate has decreased from 4.5 percent in the 2010-11 school year to 2 percent in the 2014-15 school year. The four-year graduation rate increased from 74 percent to 80 percent during the same period;
  • A new $50,000 grant from the Voya Foundation will be used to provide 14,000 new books at seven literacy centers in the county, as well as to buy books that elementary school students can read while on the bus.

AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a statement that the unique approach is more sustainable than what is often tried by schools. "This shows the power of taking a whole-child/whole-family approach, collaborating with a wide array of partners and being willing to be involved for the long haul," Weingarten said. "Too many school districts trying to help disadvantaged children go for a quick fix and come up short."

Last year, Learning Matters TV (which was acquired by Education Week last summer and is now Education Week Video) visited McDowell County for a two-part look at the challenges facing families there, including poverty, drug abuse, and the high percentage of grandparents who are raising grandchildren

The initiative has tried to combat these challenges while also improving opportunities for students by providing more technology, connecting households to the Internet, and offering internship opportunities for young adults. A teacher village that will provide housing for educators is also in its developing stages.

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