Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Bloom & Board: Black School Helps Students Blossom Away from Home

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Bloom & Board: Black School Helps Students Blossom Away from Home

Article excerpt

It's a muggy spring morning and the spirit is alive and moving through many of the students gathered in the auditorium-turned-Sunday-chapel at the Piney Woods Country Life School.

This is the last worship service before graduation and summer break, and the Rev. Robert McCathern is consumed by his weighty charge - making sure the independent school's nearly 300 students are prepared to leave the stony gates of the idyllic campus and return to their homes across the nation and around the world.

Piney Woods, one of only a handful of Black private boarding schools left in the country, is where you can "still hear about God" and "escape what's out there," says McCathern, a lean, young and streetwise chaplain.

"You've got to put on the whole armor of God. [You need] the breastplate of righteousness. [You need to] bind up your feet to walk in places of peace and put on the helmet of salvation," he explains before arriving at one of the more sobering passages of his sermon.

"For many of you, the things and people you left behind in the streets are still there and your home situations haven't changed. The world out there will eat you alive if you let it."

For eleven months of the school year, many of the students who come to Piney Woods watch as relatives and friends fall victim to drugs, violence, and the breakup of families. At Piney Woods, they can live, study and play in a peaceful and safe environment.

Although the majority of students come from economically-depressed backgrounds, there is a small percentage, according to Piney Woods President Charles H. Beady, who come from middle- and upper-income families. Some of these are the children of legislators and entrepreneurs. Students come from twenty-five states and several foreign countries, including Caribbean nations and Ethiopia, to attend this school which is virtually all Black. Currently, there is one White student enrolled.

An Emphasis on Conduct

Since Beady, an urban education and academic motivation expert, became the school's third president in 1985, he has established a strict uniform code. Every morning, dorm parents - in boot-camp style - inspect white oxford shirts and Navy blue skirts or trousers. Boys are banned from wearing earrings, loose-fitting pants that expose their underwear, and dreadlocked hair styles. Students caught fighting, kissing, or walking arm in arm can be dismissed from the school.

There are few second chances, according to the school's principal, Earnest O. Ward Sr., who often reminds students that attending the school 'is a privilege, not a right."

Under Beady's guidance, the school makes sure that students fill their time with constructive activity. Each of the school's seventh through twelfth graders spend ten hours a week working in food service, grounds keeping, maintenance, office support services, the print shop, the nursery and preschool, and as teacher assistants. They must also take part in organized study groups and daily chapel services. Three services are held on Sunday.

Beady Jr. is determined not to let the ways of the world encroach on Piney Woods's long held mission of educating and nurturing Black children - especially those from low-income backgrounds. As a result, the school recently decided to install surveillance cameras which are to be strategically placed around the lush 2,000-acre campus to ensure student protection. However, that decision has angered some students who charge that the school is spying on them.

For Beady, alarming national statistics on teen pregnancy are enough justification for the cameras. Just weeks before graduation, administrators suspended four students who were caught in the dorm room of a member of the opposite sex. Two of the students were seniors and were denied the privilege of graduating with their class. Another was suspended for being pregnant.

"We do everything that's right, legal and necessary to try and stay on top of things," says Beady. …

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