The Piney Woods School was founded by one man under a tree that had a vision for under-privileged African Americans.
“Dr. Jones graduated in Iowa; he came down and visited Mississippi and saw the need,” Ronald Jones, Public Affairs Coordinator said. “[He] saw African Americans kids were not being educated so he decided that he would come back from Iowa to start a school. What he used to do, is bring his book a lot of the times and sit under the oak tree.”
The particular book Dr. Laurence C. Jones read under a tree was a Bible.
“That's why this is a Christian school, so eventually one student came and he began to teach that one student and from that one student, other students started to come,” said Jones. “Not only children, adults started to come too.”
Dr. Jones' concept is one that is deeply rooted with strong work ethics, a principle the school still uses to this day.
“In 1909 when Doctor Jones established piney woods, he incorporated 3 basic concepts in the educational program,” said 10th and 12th grade teacher Sandra Gray. “Not only was he concerned with making the child mentally aware building a strong mind, but he also was concerned about the heart, having the compassion the love for your fellow man and also training the children to use their hands. Because you know if we're going to have a well rounded life, we cannot just be academically oriented. We must be able to incorporate basic life skills as well.”
Part of those life skills is the ability to balance academics with actual physical work. For students that means anything from cleaning buildings, sweeping and mopping, groundwork, and even work on the farms.
“After the school period ends, then the students have responsibilities to do other work,” Jones said. “We've gone through a lot of transition, but we've always been a school that's basically working toward education.”
“Students naturally change as you know here as they do anywhere else and really it's not that much change because we're still grounded in the principals of Doctor Jones,” said Gray. “Although this might be 2015, we're still to a certain extent thinking 1909. We always go back to his principals; the head, heart and hands. They guide us in everything that we do.”
The school is actually completely self sufficient. With students living in dorm rooms on campus, and a staff catered to the student's educational needs, it's natural that kids with a desire to learn would gravitate to the school.
“My sister was here so the year prior I was ventured here and I got to meet a lot of the people and professors here so it just drew me in and I never left since,” said senior Lydia Batey. “The richness, the Christian atmosphere, it's just a home away from home.”
“With the history, I love it. It was once said that if you fail to learn your history, you're doomed to repeat it so history is one of my top subjects.”
Lydia's graduating class consists of only 34 people. With a classroom number averaging about 10 students, there is a great opportunity for one-on-one learning and growth.
“Getting to know the students, we have a more personal relationship here,” said Gray. “Not only do we serve as teachers educating the children but we are adopted parents, councilor.”
And that one-on-one time reflects in Piney Wood's academic rate which boasts a 99% college approval rating and about $3 million in scholarship money per graduating class for the last 3 years.
“I was actually offered a full ride to Alcorn state with the help of the Piney woods school,” said Batey. “I will be taking among that as an agricultural major.”