Black History in the Pinebelt: The Piney Woods School pt. 1

Black History in the Pinebelt: The Piney Woods School pt. 1

MISSISSIPPI (WDAM) - The Piney Woods School, founded in 1909 by Dr. Laurence C. Jones, is one of only four historically black boarding schools in the United States.

With 2000 acres of space including an instructional farm, six lakes, over 17 buildings and the state's only outdoor rock garden amphitheater, it boasts a unique educational opportunity.

While there, current school President Will Crossley, who is a former Piney Woods student himself, provided insight about the school's current standings.

"You know, I think there's this notion that somehow sending you to Piney Woods in someplace in Mississippi is a punishment," President Will Crossley said. "Our response to it is that we have people coming here from all over the country and all over the world and leaving us, going off and doing amazing things. So if somebody's threatening to send you to Piney Woods, tell them I'm ready to go."

Crossley said his education at The Piney Woods School was a priceless opportunity. The school is even open to children overseas.

"People come here from all over the world, including the Caribbean and the Bahamas including South Africa and Korea and Ethiopia," Crossley said.

One of those students is Naol Debele. Originally from Ethiopia, and now a senior at the Piney Woods School, he is grateful for the chance he took by applying and moving to the United States.

"When I applied I was in Ethiopia with my sister and I had no intentions of applying, I had no intentions of coming here first," Debele. "I ended up getting accepted and that's why I came here."

During his three years at Piney Woods, Debele realized his love of art also ties in with his new career goal: to study graphic engineering. The Piney Woods School has given him a unique chance to focus on his future goals.

"Having the experience of not living with your parents, it gives you a responsibility that you have to organize your time and use everything, every time you have effectively," Debele said. "And mostly the school will help with organizing your time and they give a certain time to study and a certain time to play around but it depends on what you really want to do with yourself. You can use the play time to work and then put yourself out there and show people you can do it."

There are several notable Piney Woods graduates who have gone on and had great achievements.

"There's a new hit show on TV called Empire, and there's a Piney Woods student staring in that. There's a Nobel Prize Nominee right here from Mississippi, Randy Sandifer who was a Piney Woods graduate. Dr. Ranaca Anthony at Omaha Nebraska involved with Clinical research and teaching there is a piney woods graduate and I worked, and was appointed as a senior executive appointee by President Obama, I'm a Piney Woods Graduate," said Crossley.

Crossley says technology on campus has changed, but the principles the school was founded upon have not.

"I think the mission that Laurence C. Jones began here which was to provide opportunity for young people who wouldn't otherwise have it; that's still the same, Crossley said. "We didn't have computers when I was a student here. I learned how to type on a typewriter in classrooms on this campus and so have we changed, sure we've changed. We have some buildings on campus that we didn't have when I was here. And we have people working here who were working here when I was here so oddly enough we have people are still here and are still dedicated and committed to the work and the cause that we do."