Against All Odds

Imagine a place that sits at ground zero of a drug addiction crisis. As expected, it is a place where one out of ten working-age individuals is unemployed and nearly half of the families live below the poverty line. Only four out of five are able to finish high school. As a result, nearly half of its residents over the age of 25 do not have a high school diploma. In 2010, only 3 out of ten students are proficient in math and less than two out of ten are able to pass a standardized science test. These numbers are not from the Philippines but from a community in West Virginia in the United States, McDowell county.  For the Philippines, it maybe helpful to look at what this county is doing to address challenges in basic education. After all, the county has been showing a dramatic improvement in the past few years. And at the heart of this progress is a union, a union of teachers.

The turn around of McDowell county is largely attributed to a partnership between public and private groups called Reconnecting McDowell. The teachers' union, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), is a major player in this partnership as the group envisions education as the main driver to a brighter future for the county.

Above copied from Reconnecting McDowell

Facing enourmous problems, of course, requires a lot of action, but there is clearly one factor that has contributed significantly to the improvements now seen in the county: Schools have become community schools where physical, dental and mental health services are provided. Education clearly must address not only the academics but the whole child. The following is an excerpt from WVMetroNews
At Southside, students get a warm meal at night. They get dental cleanings. They can take yoga classes, use gym space, learn to program a robot, receive mental health counseling and so much more because the school is now considered the county’s first “community school.”
To put the above concretely, adolescents who are charged with drug possession no longer go to prison. Instead, they are provided medical and counseling services, and they are able to stay in school. I guess this is what we really should mean when we say that we are providing a child everything that he or she needs to build a better future. It is about treatment, not punishment. And this is what it takes to turn around a county like McDowell.