And similar attempts have fallen short in far more populous places where the challenges weren't as great.
"It would be a real mystery to me how to do that in a rural area," said Paul Heckman, an associate dean at the University of California, Davis, School of Education.
Heckman helped schools in Tucson, Ariz., set up a similar community-based program. But there he had a more densely populated area.
"How do you activate this community?" he said about this rural place.
It's not as though McDowell County is a stranger to outsiders' help. In 1966 alone, the county received $721,000 from federal anti-poverty programs.
"Eight community centers were opened, each with a library and recreation area, classrooms for Head Start and well-equipped sewing and cooking areas. Instructors were hired to teach adult education and home economics. Recreation directors were employed," The New York Times wrote in a 1966 article from here.
"Then, with everything in place, the word was sent out to the poor: Come to classes because they are good for you. ... Everything will be different for you from now on."
"Their heart was in the right place and they came in with the grants and instituted these programs. Everything was fine for six months and they went away and the program died," said Manchin, now the vice president of the West Virginia Board of Education and among those expected to vote for expanding the schools' mandate.
What they're trying to do is overlay an urban strategy on a place where cellphones often lack a signal. Boston, Cincinnati and Oakland, Calif., all have created schools where the academic leaders work with community partners on education, health and social issues. Between lessons on Shakespeare and Charlemagne, students can have their teeth cleaned or meet with a social worker.