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School CP - May 1998

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Batesville Daily Guard, Batesville, Arkansas, 1 May 1998

Area News

Batesville spares rod more than others

By Guard Staff

The Southside School District has only about 60 percent of the enrollment of the Batesville School District, but it gave its students over 10 times as many paddlings as Batesville did during the 1996-97 school year.

Such a contrast -- Southside's 852 instances of corporal punishment to Batesville's 80 -- is a perfect illustration of the contrasting philosophies on the application of the "board of education" to the "seat of learning" in Arkansas, which leads the nation in school spankings according to a national report.

While most area schools reported more paddlings being given to junior high students than older and younger pupils, Batesville Junior High gave no paddlings in 1996-97 according to Department of Education figures and has almost never paddled for the past several years, principal Harry Crossett said.

"We don't use corporal punishment in the junior high building," Crossett said. "Saturday School is much more effective, and from a legal standpoint, it's a lot less complicated as well."

Crossett and Batesville High School principal Merle Dickerson, who estimated 10 paddlings are given a year at his school, both say many students actually request paddlings to avoid detention.

"Sometimes I have students beg for a paddling that don't get a paddling because we just don't like to do it," Dickerson said.

Batesville Middle School principal Betty Harrison said she only paddles about two students a year, and then only as a last resort. West Elementary principal Jerry Harris said he paddles two a month.

"If I send them home, there's nobody there to take care of them," Harris said. "Sometimes it's better for me to give them a lick and send them back to class."

Several other area districts, although smaller in enrollment, report using the board with much more frequency.

Dr. Robert Calvery, Southside superintendent, said his district uses corporal punishment, but not as often as in the past and only after other methods have not worked.

Students in the sixth grade or below are paddled only with parental permission and older students are given options, he said.

"I feel like there is a proper way to use corporal punishment," he said. "A student needs to know if they do something out of line there is punishment."

At Cave City High School, paddlings may be chosen by a student or his/her parents as an alternative to detention hall or Saturday school.

Principal Jerry Elkins said the numbers sound bad - 167 spankings were given last year, or slightly less than one a day - but that "the clear majority of them were requested by the parent or the student."

"A lot of times, the parents will call and say, 'If Johnny gets in trouble again, you paddle him, don't send him to Saturday school,'" Elkins said.

Cave City Elementary Principal Kerry Huskey said 188 students were paddled during the previous school year, or slightly more than one a day.

Gary Anderson, Cushman superintendent, said his district doesn't paddle as much as it once did.

Roger Ried, Cushman High School principal, said he tells teachers to first talk to the students. If problems continue, a conference with parents and detention follow, and then the student is given a choice between a paddling and in-school suspension.

"The junior high kids get more paddlings because they get in trouble more," he said. He averages three a week, he said.

Jerry Rose, Sulphur Rock superintendent, said his district paddles "on a very limited basis, as a last resort."

Rose said Sulphur Rock always give students and parents a choice. "If a parent doesn't want their child paddled we ask that they write a letter to that effect and we abide by that," he said.

Dean Fugett, Newark superintendent, said his district also paddles on a limited basis and as a last resort. He said the district hopes to be able to remove corporal punishment from its list of options given to students and parents.

Nath Tumlison, high school principal, said the high school does not use corporal punishment as much as it has in the past, adding that he paddles an average of two students a week.

Copyright 1998, Batesville Guard-Record Co., Inc. All rights reserved.

Corpun file 2775 at


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Georgia, 24 May 1998

Choosing to succeed

Black boarding school rewards youths who make the sacrifices needed

By Anne Rochell

Piney Woods, Miss. -- Coley Coleman has been making hard choices most of his short life. At 10, he decided to go out and make money fixing bikes when his mother drank the welfare checks away. At 15, after an accident, he decided to walk again, although doctors said he never would. And like most kids with little guidance, Coley made some wrong decisions.

He had dangerous friends in his Columbus, Ohio, housing project, and decided to sell crack, carry a gun and even use it. He was arrested once, and was becoming a statistic: another black, inner-city youth one step from prison.

But at 18, Coleman is making another decision: Where to go to college. With a 3.5 grade point average, numerous awards and a wide range of extracurriculars, he has been offered scholarships by Denison University, Alabama A&M and Berea College.

He says he owes the turnaround to Piney Woods Country Life School, a black boarding school set on 2,000 wooded acres 20 miles south of Jackson. Since 1909, children headed nowhere have found a road here that leads to college and good jobs --- in short, a future.

The premise of the school, which holds graduation today, is simple: Take away the temptations of inner-city life by placing teens in a rural and religious setting. Impose near-extreme discipline, set high expectations, and offer the kind of support and advice most of them have never known.

The results: More than 95 percent of each graduating class goes to college, often to places such as Harvard, Princeton, Smith, the University of California, and to historically black schools such as Tuskegee and Morehouse. About 80 percent graduate from college.

"Poor youngsters and black youngsters in particular have a high sense of futility and a sense that the deck is stacked against them," says Dr. Charles Beady, only the third president since the school' s founding. "We spend a whole lot of time lowering that sense of futility."

More than two-thirds of the students at Piney Woods are from poor and troubled backgrounds. They come here because someone at home wanted to save them from something -- poverty, violence, drugs. They stay because they want to be saved.

"I didn't always like it, but now that I'm graduating, I know Piney Woods has been the best thing for me," Coleman says. "Everybody loves me here and wants to see me prosper."

Interest rekindled

There once were more than 80 private black boarding schools like Piney Woods in the United States, but only five remain. Two, including Ebon International Preparatory Academy in Forsyth, Ga., closed last year. The reason is lack of funding. Most students don't pay tuition, which at Piney Woods is more than $8,000. Beady says it costs about $20,000 per student to run Piney Woods each year.

The schools rely solely on donations to stay in business, and that support dwindled after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered desegregation in 1954. Many black parents figured their kids would be better off in schools formerly restricted to white children, and interest in all-black education waned.

Ironically, as these schools teeter on the brink of extinction, education experts, exasperated by the failures of the public school system, are giving the model a second look. Detroit, Minneapolis and Washington are considering boarding schools, and looking closely at Piney Woods. Two universities are watching Piney Woods graduates to see how they fare in college and beyond. And the W.K. Kellogg Foundation awarded Piney Woods $400,000 to see if it can replicate what it does.

"Every parent, black and white, is looking for a safe environment for their children -- look at Jonesboro," says Marvin Jones, program coordinator at Piney Woods, referring to the shootings of teachers and children at an Arkansas middle school. "But these kids don't have to worry about drive-by shootings. All they have to watch for is walk-by cows."

Coleman and the other 300 Piney Woods boys and girls in grades 7 through 12 wake every morning at 5:30 to a deafening alarm bell. By 8 a.m., they have eaten breakfast, attended a church service, and many have gone out to the school' s 500-acre working farm to feed cows or wash out the pig sties. Then it's a long day of classes, jobs, study hall and extracurricular activities, a day that doesn't end until lights out at 11.

The school operates like a self-contained community. The cafeteria serves bacon and sausage and burgers made from pigs and cows on the farm. There is a post office, a dry cleaners, a printing press and a general store. Students must work two hours a day, usually at one of these "businesses." Many of the kids come from cities and have never been around animals. But they learn quickly. In recent years, the school has been winning ribbons at state fairs.

Adjusting to Piney Woods isn't easy. Students must maintain a " C" average, have a strong desire to learn and adhere to the rules. There is a uniform -- white oxford shirts and blue pants. Saggy pants and flashy jewelry are prohibited, and boys can't wear any jewelry at all. Talking back to a teacher, snoozing in class, or even holding hands with the opposite sex warrants a paddling or detention, which is called "in-house." Held every afternoon in a room behind the garage, students assigned there must march to the room singing "In-House Blues," a sort of rap song authored by the in-house disciplinarian.

Coleman says he was the "in-house king" his first year here. He got in trouble mostly for insubordination.

"I had trouble getting used to Piney Woods," he says. Having sex, getting pregnant, doing drugs or fighting are grounds for expulsion. Sex is of particular concern. On prom night, students are told to dance six inches apart. Throughout the year, students take turns carrying baby dolls around for three weeks, to hammer home that an unwanted pregnancy can ruin their lives.

"Parents didn't send their kids here to hold hands," Jones says as he drives around campus. Surveillance cameras watch the students day and night as they come and go from their dorms. And just to be sure the worst inner-city temptation stays far away from Piney Woods, drug-sniffing dogs inspect students returning to school from a trip home.

Christian religion is central at Piney Woods. There is prayer, hymn singing and a sermon every morning, and just before noon, a bell rings across campus, and everyone is expected to stop in their tracks for a moment of prayer and thanks. On Sundays, the school attends three worship services.

Many kids can't hack it. Eighteen percent drop out each year, two or three are expelled, and 15-20 students are suspended for a semester or a year, Beady says. "It's frustrating to lose a bright youngster, but we have to be about the business of doing the greatest good for the greatest number of kids."

Leslie Small, an 18-year-old senior from Stone Mountain, Ga., says he had a hard time with the lack of freedom.

"At home, there were no limits," he says. "But I wasn't doing the right things at school, and the environment wasn't good. Here, I've set a lot of goals I wouldn't find myself setting if I was at home."

And the faculty has taught him more than just math and science. "They taught me how to dress for success, how to tie a necktie," Small says. "At home, I don't know a lot of people who know how to tie ties and stuff." In the fall, Small is going to Tuskegee to study architectural engineering.

"Piney Woods is not for problem kids," Jones says. "If a student does not want to be here, in all likelihood he won't make it here."

Breaking the cycle

"MOTIVATED! MOTIVATED! HIGHLY MOTIVATED!!!" Coleman and his fellow classmates in ROTC class are in formation, shouting marching chants and preparing for their spring banquet. This may be standard Army procedure, but at Piney Woods the chant carries a deeper meaning.

"I do all this for myself; I wanted to break the cycle of my family," Coleman says, his wide, almond-shaped eyes displaying no emotion except pure determination. As far as he knows, no one in his family has graduated from high school, let alone college.

In an essay he wrote to earn a $1,000 scholarship for his freshman year of college, Coleman says this about his home life:

"I come from what I call a dysfunctional home...We had no father figure in our lives, except for the old derelicts that my mother socialized with."

He grew up in what he calls "the worst housing project in Columbus."

Coleman began running with a wild crowd, and at 14, he was placed in a detention center for distributing crack.

When he was 15, Coleman was hit by a car and thrown into another car. He was in a body cast for 10 months and missed a year of school. Even worse to him, his body atrophied. "My dreams of becoming a world gymnast, boxer, or martial artist were over," he says.

While he lay in bed, he grew bored with his video games and started to read voraciously, and it occurred to him that athletics weren't the only way out of poverty.

Despite doctors telling him he couldn't, Coleman began to walk again. "I was just destined to," he says. At the ROTC banquet this spring, he won the prize for being the most physically fit in his class.

Getting support

In the first class at Piney Woods 89 years ago, there was one student. The classroom was the shady ground beneath a cedar tree. The teacher was Laurence Jones, a black man, a Missouri native and a University of Iowa graduate, who had come to Mississippi to educate black farmers' children and put an end to their cycle of illiteracy and poverty. He started under the tree, then moved to an old slave cabin, and eventually built a school that at one time taught more than 500 children a year.

On the first board of trustees sat a former Confederate soldier and a former Union soldier, as well as a former slave. Today, half of the board is white, and most of the donations come from whites; "Peanuts" creator Charles M. Shulz gave money for a girls' dormitory.

To keep the school open, Beady says, blacks -- former students, church groups, celebrities -- need to support Piney Woods. Oprah Winfrey is one of the few black celebrities to give, he says. She donated $43,000 for a guidance counselor.

Better off here

Members of a church group who knew Coleman was in trouble showed him a 1993 "60 Minutes" segment on the school. "On the video, the kids seemed educated, and the students seemed willing to learn," he says. At first, Coleman was a little disappointed by the campus. It wasn't quite as beautiful as it looked on television: Some buildings and classrooms look a little shabby, and students sleep four to a cinderblock room in the boys dorm. But he knows he's better off here than at home in Columbus. He's reminded of that daily by a picture of his brother that hangs over his bunk. The brother is in prison in Ohio, serving a life sentence for armed robbery and murder.

"My brother got in trouble because he tried to do the same things I did, but he wasn't as smart," Coleman says. "I was supposed to look after him. When I left, he fell by the wayside."

Coleman has visited his brother. "All we get to do is go to this little room, and talk through three inches of glass on a telephone."

A field trip to the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility is an annual event for Piney Woods students. It's a reminder of reality. Coleman is not the only Piney Woods student with a relative or a friend in prison.

But Piney Woods spends most of the time inspiring and supporting kids to succeed. All around the campus are signs: "Fame is vapor, popularity an accident, riches take wings, only one thing endures, that is character," reads one.

And the kids treat each other like brothers and sisters in one big family. Coleman acts as the oldest sibling: His room is where all the boys come to hang out, borrow a tie, watch TV, get some advice or a haircut. Coleman earns $5 for every head he trims -- top dollar, but he's the best, he says.

Coleman is still deciding which college to attend. The church group back home would like him to go to A&M, but his adviser at school is pushing for Denison.

"I'm not sure I even want to go to college," Coleman says. "But I will, because I feel like I owe it to everyone who has supported me here."

Copyright 1998, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, All rights reserved.

blob Related: For another story about Piney Woods school, see US schools February 1998.

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