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.
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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
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.”
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.
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
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
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.”
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.