When the governor of West Virginia, the head of the state board of education and the American Federation of Teachers announced a public-private partnership in 2011 to help revitalize the struggling economy and schools of McDowell County, some doubted whether a teachers union could ace this tough assignment. The state’s southernmost county in the heart of Appalachia was once a thriving hub of the coal industry, but its fortunes had slipped. Led by the AFT, more than a hundred partners came together and expressed their belief that McDowell could thrive again.
“Education,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said, “is the centerpiece of this effort.”
Reconnecting McDowell has found ways to strengthen early childhood education, obtain broadband internet access, equip kids with laptops, establish full-service community schools, and distribute nearly 40,000 new books to children in need. It has secured many rounds of scholarships for McDowell graduates to go to college.
To remedy a lack of housing for public school teachers, Reconnecting McDowell also spearheaded the construction of Renaissance Village, a four-story complex featuring apartments, retail storefronts and commercial space. Union-financed and union-built, Renaissance Village is the first multistory residential complex built in McDowell County in 50 years.
Click a year to explore
2012 - 2013
- Frontier Communications commits $100,000 for online learning.
- West Virginia announces $1 million in state funds for literacy and early childhood education, to be run by Save the Children.
- The state designs a new county juvenile drug court that diverts nonviolent juvenile offenders through treatment and counseling.
- Women of Steel raises $5,000 for 4-H camp.
- A county expo showcases local goods and services.
- VH1 Save the Music Foundation provides $30,000 in musical instruments.
- West Virginia University and Highmark donate $200,000 for improvements in physical education.
- Shentel Communications installs $9.7 million in internet cable.
2014 - 2015
- The state allocates $125,000 for literacy and early childhood education.
- Reconnecting McDowell votes to build mixed-use teacher housing in Welch.
- AT&T Foundation launches a mentoring program, Broader Horizons.
- The local economic development authority hosts business training.
- The state awards $300,000 toward community schools.
- A $1.5 million federal grant funds school mental health and substance abuse services.
- Church leaders launch events to draw young people into community service.
- Reconnecting McDowell is one of seven national competitors selected for seminars on transitioning away from coal.
- A community baby shower provides diapers, strollers, car seats and more.
- The NFL Players Association and the NFL Foundation donate $20,000 in football gear to county high schools.
- A $50,000 literacy grant from VOYA restocks family literacy centers.
2016 - 2017
- Asbestos removal and demolition begin at Renaissance Village.
- Broader Horizons continues peer mentoring, college applications and networking.
- AT&T Foundation awards $200,000 for Broader Horizons.
- Maier Foundation donates $20,000 for scholarships.
- VOYA awards a $50,000 renewal grant for family literacy.
2018 - 2019
- Two fellowships funded by the Emerson Hunger Fellows Program create a farm-to-school program for school meals
- The Maier Foundation awards $40,000 for scholarships.
- Construction begins on Renaissance Village.
- AmeriCorps awards a $50,000 business planning grant.
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture awards Reconnecting McDowell a $250,000 farm-to-school grant.
- All county schools rate “fully compliant” in academic progress.
- The high school dropout rate has fallen several percentage points.
- The graduation rate has soared.
- All students now receive dental exams, and every school has a nurse and a social worker.
- The Maier Foundation awards a $40,000 renewal grant.
- Renaissance Village acquires a $1 million from the Abandoned Mine Land Grants program.
- Renaissance Village is set to open in July 2020.