“Everywhere you look around you, there are depressing circumstances,” which have made it easy for the community to fall prey to addiction, said McGuire, who has been Southside’s principal for three years.
A decade ago, the escape of choice was alcohol for out-of-work miners, which meant teachers saw among students mostly cases of domestic violence. But the advent of prescription pill addiction has been a game changer, she said.
“When it escalated into drug abuse, the addiction got so bad that, on average, about 43 percent of my students had lost a biological mother or father,” either from overdose or removal from their homes, McGuire said.
“It’s the biggest outside influence that we battle,” she said. In Southside’s fourth grade, about 40 percent of students are in special education; many of them were born with drug addictions, McGuire said. Inevitably, she learns their heartbreaking stories of abuse and neglect, such as when parents died from an overdose or, in more than one instance, how students were removed from their homes because a parent sold them for sex to get money for drugs.
“I’ve got kids who are unbelievably broken,” McGuire said. “For many of the kids, we’re home. I know when they’re here, they’re loved. I know when they’re here, they’ve got three meals. I know that they’re safe, warm and in a clean place.”
The daughter of an abusive alcoholic father, McGuire grew up in War and said she understands the challenges for kids.
“I grew up in poverty. Neither one of my parents had a high school education,” she said. “My dad was a profound alcoholic. There was domestic violence in my home. I was raised on welfare. But I had support other than my family that helped me be successful.”
It started on the tennis courts down the street, where she picked up the game that would make her a state semifinalist in high school and get her on a college team. The courts probably saved her life, she said.
Last fall, the community received a $100,000 grant for exercise equipment, which was purchased and put in the gym of the old Big Creek High School, and plans are underway to transform the facility into a community center.
“If you do not give these kids something to do, they’re going to fall just like their parents,” McGuire said.
“The people are good people,” she said. “It’s just a generation of people and a culture of people that kind of went the wrong way. Their whole industry — their whole everything — has been taken away from them.”