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A Fading Coal County Bets on Schools, but There’s One Big Hitch
Hard hit by the decline of mining, a rural area in West Virginia is trying to attract teachers in a comeback effort. What’s lacking are jobs for the graduates.

After receiving her bachelor’s degree from Concord University in Athens, W.Va., the 24-year-old English teacher did something rare among her peers: She returned home to Welch to teach at Mount View High School, from which she graduated in 2014. “People my age and older usually don’t come back to the county,” Ms. Keys told me. “A lot of our kids want to go away.”

McDowell County, where Welch sits, lost a larger share of its people in recent years than any other county in West Virginia — which, in turn, had the biggest population decline of any state. The Census Bureau put the county population at 17,624 in 2019, 20 percent fewer than in 2010, and a sliver of its peak of nearly 100,000 after World War II.

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