AFT spearheads landmark partnership to turn around Appalachian community
Once home to more than 120,000 Americans, McDowell County, W.Va., has seen its population dwindle to barely 22,000. The exodus started in the 1960s, when the coal industry began pulling out of the county, taking away well-paying jobs.
Today, the county is one of the nation's poorest. Unemployment is widespread. Transportation is difficult in the mountainous, flood-prone terrain, which puts access to healthcare, public services and recreation beyond the reach of many residents. McDowell consistently ranks at or near the bottom of West Virginia counties in measures of health, income and education—problems that often show up in schools and undercut efforts to provide students with an excellent education.
The school system, for example, typically has trouble recruiting and keeping excellent educators because there is no available housing. Transportation problems compromise opportunities for after-school and summer enrichment programs, making boredom a fact of life for students and fueling problems like drug abuse.
These problems are profound, defy piecemeal solutions, and point to the need for a comprehensive, coordinated response—the type of response that the AFT-led Reconnecting McDowell is designed to provide.