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Black School Boasts College-Bounds

May 20, 2001

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PINEY WOODS, Miss. (AP) _ Sunday’s commencement at The Piney Woods School may have looked like a typical high school graduation, but the historically black boarding school is anything but.

The school’s 265 students have come to the plush, rural campus from 23 states and several countries. Most are from low-income, single-parent families.

But if they survive the strict discipline and rigorous studies, nearly all will go to college.

Among Sunday’s 38 graduates, 36 will attend college and the other two have opted for the military.

``That’s pretty much par for the course,″ said Charles H. Beady Jr., the school’s president since 1985. ``That’s the goal.″

Parri James Litton, 17, of New York City is headed to Buffalo State University to study psychology. Litton came to Piney Woods in the eighth grade but had a difficult time with the school’s rules, which include a dress code and corporal punishment.

He went back to Brooklyn, then returned to Mississippi two years later.

``I was in one of the worst public schools in the city, so I decided to come back,″ Litton said. ``I was older and it was an easier adjustment. I look back now and it’s all been worth it.″

This year’s valedictorian, Caamo Kane of Senegal, West Africa, plans to study biochemistry on a scholarship at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine.

Laurence C. Jones founded Piney Woods in 1909 with a Bible and $1.65. His mission was to teach poor, uneducated farmers and their children.

The school, 20 miles south of Jackson, started with 40 donated acres and now includes a 500-acre working farm.

U.S. News & World Report this month recognized Piney Woods as one of the nation’s top boarding schools.

The school’s endowment is worth about $36 million. Benefactors have included Mississippi native Oprah Winfrey, the late cartoonist Charles Schulz and Piney Woods alumna Cathy Hughes, founder and chairman of Maryland-based Radio One Inc.

Hughes, whose company is worth more than $2 billion, is Jones’ granddaughter. She has pledged $1 million to the school.

It costs the school as much as $30,000 a year to house and teach each student, yet families pay only $2,500 on average.

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