A Fading Coal County Bets on Faculties, however There’s One Massive Hitch


“I hear it from kids all the time: I want out of here,” said Kristin Johnson, a 24-year-old Mount View middle school teacher who lives in Princeton, W.Va. lives, about an hour’s drive away, and itches to open a teaching job there. “Those who do an apprenticeship know that they can earn more money elsewhere.”

Ms. Keys returned partly out of loyalty. “We lost a lot of teachers when I was in high school,” she said. “People feared that there would be no one to take these jobs.” But a steady teaching job and a vacant apartment in her grandmother’s old house played a role in her calculations.

However, this may not be enough to keep them going. Finding a local partner is also complicated. Her boyfriend lives over an hour away, outside of Beckley. “There is no one here who is appealing,” said Ms. Keys.

Think Emily Hicks, 24, who graduated from Mount View in 2015. She is at the forefront of the efforts of Reconnecting McDowell, an early participant in the mentoring program designed to broaden the horizons of local youth.

She didn’t even have to leave home to get her bachelor’s degree from Bluefield State College and was commuting from home every other day. Today she teaches fifth grade at Kimball Elementary School. Her father is a surveyor for the coal mines; her mother works for the local landfill. But her boyfriend, Brandon McCoy, is hoping to leave the coal business and has taken some part-time jobs at clinics outside of the county after graduating with a radiology degree.

Her brother Justin, who graduated from high school in June, is going to college for an electrical engineering degree. “I have no idea what I’ll do after that,” he said. “But there isn’t much to do here.”