WASHINGTON—Every McDowell County middle-school student will receive a free laptop this fall, courtesy of West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, Connect2Compete, and the Reconnecting McDowell partnership.
The laptop distribution announced today is one of several new activities Reconnecting McDowell is unveiling as the 2013-14 school year begins.
"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," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. "Knowledge is power, and laptops and access to the Internet provide a huge boost. The goal of the laptop program over the next four years is to include elementary and high school students as well."
Tomblin said, "I believe in Reconnecting McDowell and the potential it has to improve our children's lives. That's why I support this laptop project." Tomblin serves as the 2013 state's co-chair for the Appalachian Regional Commission.
The $236,695 allocated to Reconnecting McDowell for the 875 laptops comes from several sources: Tomblin allocated $117,750 from the state's share of the Appalachian Regional Commission funds, and Connect2Compete matched it with $118,945. The laptops will be kept at the middle schools until the students and their families have been trained, security chips have been installed and households have wireless capability.
Frontier Communications, a Reconnecting McDowell partner, recently wired every McDowell County school with expanded broadband, and Shentel Communications, another partner, is nearly finished wiring 10,000 county homes and is offering reduced internet rates for families with school-age children.
"The productive partnership between Gov. Tomblin and Reconnecting McDowell is bearing fruit and the laptop grant is one of many recent examples that puts 21st-century tools in students' hands," said Gayle Manchin, chair of Reconnecting McDowell and vice president of the West Virginia Board of Education.
Other back-to-school news:
- Community schools with wraparound services—Planning has begun for turning Southside K-8 School, in War, W.Va., into the county's first of seven community schools. Community organizations and agencies will provide various health, social and academic intervention services to students and their families based on their needs. In May, the West Virginia Board of Education approved a community schools plan for seven McDowell County Public Schools.
- McDowell Expo—Reconnecting McDowell is co-sponsoring a huge expo to bring together about 70 businesses and non-profit groups to promote employment and training opportunities as well as services and programs. The McDowell Expo will be held at the Welch National Guard Armory Oct 4-5.
- Parenting and grandparenting group—The McDowell County Public Schools, along with Reconnecting McDowell partner Save the Children, will be organizing parenting and grandparenting groups. In these sessions, adults can share stories and advice and learn about services and programs from each other. In McDowell, 46 percent of students live with someone other than a biological parent.
- Teacher recruitment—West Virginia University is working with community colleges in the state to develop "2 plus 2" programs to attract more teachers to McDowell and elsewhere around the state. Under these programs, a paraprofessional with a two-year associate degree and who has taken certain required courses, could attend classes at WVU for two years and obtain a bachelor's degree in elementary education. These programs are especially important for McDowell County, which is facing at least 30 teacher vacancies as the school year begins.
- Teacher training – In October, the American Federation of Teachers will be offering a series of professional development sessions for all McDowell teachers on preventing bullying and anti-social behavior.