Reconnecting McDowell just celebrated its first anniversary. The program, aimed at creating a better education system in McDowell County, has had a busy 12 months.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten is part of the Reconnect team. She says, in the past year, the group has been able to get a good head start on some important programs.
Reconnecting McDowell has been able to connect all schools in the county to high speed broadband and the program is working on connecting 10,000 homes.
Literacy is improving, she says. More than 4,500 free books were handed out in 2012 to get kids and their parents reading. The county is working on recruiting and retaining teachers. Truancy and drug abuse programs have been introduced into the schools and the program is connecting arts to education.
Most importantly Weingarten says they are working with the people of McDowell County. “People in McDowell always said, ‘All in all, we don’t want a hand out. We want a hand up.’” Weingarten says that’s what they’re giving them.
“What we’re looking at is how we do a whole approach to bring economic development to the county and how we then also do treat and work with the whole child.”
One major obstacle is the high unemployment rate in McDowell County. Weingarten says there must be jobs available when students graduate.
The school system is still under control of the Department of Education. Weingarten says sometimes outside help is frowned on by the local community. That’s why those with Reconnecting McDowell must tread lightly.
“We want to make sure that people in McDowell want us to take this on, because it does take a village. It can’t be a top down exercise,” according to Weingarten.
She says the goal for 2013 is to keep pushing forward, giving McDowell County children access to the latest in technology, the best teachers available and a love of learning that will last them a lifetime.