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Red Bird Mission School to reopen


6:00 P.M. EST July 23, 2010

Mark Smallwood, a music teacher at Red Bird Mission School, sings a hymn with students in October 2006.  UMNS file photos by Ronny Perry.
Mark Smallwood, a music teacher at Red Bird Mission School, sings a hymn with students in October 2006. UMNS file photos by Ronny Perry.
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After almost shutting its doors, the Red Bird Mission School will once again welcome students in the remote mountains of southeastern Kentucky.

In May, the Red Bird Mission Board had voted to suspend classes during the 2010-2011 academic year to build up the school’s cash reserves after years of dwindling donations.

But after receiving more than $100,000 in gifts and making substantial budget cuts, the board voted on July 22 to open the United Methodist school in Beverly to 150 kindergartners through 12th graders this coming school year. The first day of class will be Aug. 5.

Jennifer Wilder, the school’s guidance counselor, said many parents and students are thrilled the school will be open, including her own two children who attend the school. She said her phone was ringing off the hook with parents eager to enroll their youngsters on the day after the board made its decision

“It’s confirmation that the Lord is in charge,” Wilder said. “We have asked him to be in charge and for his will to be done. So it’s so exciting because I believe he is faithful and this is what he wants.”

Generous gifts

Red Bird Mission School has educated and shaped the faith of youngsters in rural Appalachia for 89 years. The school draws students mainly from three counties where most adults work in the struggling coal mining and logging industries, and where as many as half the children live below the federal poverty rate.

Two students rehearse music.
Two students rehearse music.
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Families pay on a sliding scale of $7 to $56 a month, depending on what they can afford.

For many alumni, the school has been not only a gateway out of poverty, but also the place where they first read the Bible and encountered Jesus.

And many of those alumni have shown their gratitude by giving to the school in its time of need, said Tim Crawford, Red Bird Mission’s director of development. The school is also receiving donations from local businesses.

In addition, the school has seen increased giving and commitments from United Methodist churches, long its primary source of support.

Since June, the school has received $125,000 in donations, including $26,000 from an offering collected at the meeting of the Kentucky Annual (regional) Conference. The school additionally has a $100,000 pledge, which has been partially fulfilled.

“We’re doing well in fundraising, but it’s not over,” Crawford said. “We’re going to need continuing effort. We want people to know there is still an urgent need for support.”

Smaller school

The school will be smaller in this coming academic year. Taylor Collins, the mission’s executive director, presented the board of directors with a $756,521 budget — about $1 million less than last year.

The school’s staff will be reduced almost 50 percent to 18 teachers and support staff. Its enrollment of 150 students will be lower than the 220 the school had in the previous academic year.

The school also is reducing its transportation budget limiting how far it will be able to bus students, and has shuttered its dorm for high school students who live too far away for the bus.

In addition, the school’s course load will be reduced to six subjects — math, science, English, history, Spanish and music. The school budget will not fund athletics. Those students who want to participate in sports will have to provide their own transportation and uniforms.

However, the school will not be cutting back on its Bible study and weekly chapel services.

Faith remains a very important part of the school’s mission, said Marcus Collett, the school’s new principal.

“We want to serve the students who come to our school in the very best way possible and give them a great education in a Christian environment,” Collett said.

Donations to the Red Bird Mission can be made through the Advance. Red Bird Mission School is Advance #773728. Red Bird Mission is Advance #773726.

*Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service.

News media contact: Heather Hahn, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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