Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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April 24, 2014

AT&T announces $300,000 grant to benefit Reconnecting McDowell

WELCH — The first wave of McDowell County students at risk of dropping out of high school received a major lift on Wednesday thanks to a contribution from one of its partners to Reconnecting McDowell.

The three-year, $300,000 AT&T Aspire grant will enable 20 McDowell County students to experience other parts of the state and nation through mentors, college campus visits and job shadowing programs in Charleston and Washington, D.C., through a program called “Broader Horizons,” according to an AT&T press release.

“We gave the task of selecting the students to our school principals,” Nelson Spencer, superintendent of McDowell County Schools said. “I will give all the credit for this project to Reconnecting McDowell. They applied for the AT&T grant and did most of the work.”

Spencer said that he was impressed by the approach that AT&T has taken with Broader Horizons by working with Reconnect McDowell’s partners to develop mentors who will work with students. “We consider that our successes can be measured one student at a time,” Spencer said.

That philosophy dovetailed nicely with the philosophy of J. Michael Schweder, president of AT&T Mid-Atlantic. “We’re not coming out here to re-invent the wheel and develop a one-size-fits all approach to the challenge,” Schweder said in a telephone interview. “We were there in 2008 with the Education Alliance in West Virginia and we’ve come back. We want to build on our successes.”

Schweder said that this new grant is part of “a constant process in education we’re doing all across this country.” He explained that at least part of that effort is directed at preparing young people for jobs at a time when technology is changing rapidly.

“We have to find the next generation of people to operate our systems,” he said. I’m not just talking about advanced systems engineers. There will be many new opportunities in an all-wireless world.”

AT&T is one of 125 partners in Reconnecting McDowell — a project that was launched in December 2011 with the intent of revitalizing the county’s opportunities on several levels. Each of the students participating in Broader Horizons will be assigned a mentor and will meet regularly.

This week, the students visited several businesses, the state capitol and West Virginia state University. In June, the students and their mentors will visit Washington, D.C., the campus of the University of Maryland, NBC’s Washington bureau, congressional representatives and more.

“We’re going to follow up on this as we go along,” Schweder said. “We’re in this for the long run.”

Spencer said that he thinks the idea of having the students work with a mentor is a good idea.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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