Preparing Students For Leadership
Campus Learning Community
We are an independent coeducational college preparatory boarding school, preparing students for leadership through an innovative, high-quality, academic, and experiential learning program. While our campus is uniquely situated in rural Mississippi (20 miles from Jackson, the state capital), our students hail from more than 20 national and international states and jurisdictions.
We are a campus learning community. Extending nearly 2,000 acres, our school includes a 65-acre main campus, a 250-acre demonstration farm, several lakes and ponds, over 1,000 acres of wildlife and renewable timber, and much more. Our experiential learning program seeks to leverage these physical spaces, and our development of them, as opportunities to learn through projects and problem-solving. Here, our campus is our classroom; our lands are our labs. Explore these spaces with us. We are a family.
Admission SPRING 2022
Are now open!
Laurence Clifton Jones(1884-1975)
He was the founder and long-time president of The Piney Woods Country Life School, in Piney Woods, Mississippi. In 1909, Dr. Jones, a recent graduate from the University of Iowa, learned about the high illiteracy rate of 80%, in rural Rankin County, Mississippi. Identifying that need as his personal mission, he stepped off the train and walked into the heart of Piney Woods. He carried only a few clean shirts, a Bible, a couple of textbooks, his diploma, and a $1.65. With little more than a dream and faith that he was following God’s call, He started The Piney Woods Country Life School. It began first under a cedar tree and then moved to an abandoned sheep shed. His goal was to educate the sons and daughters of impoverished black sharecroppers. Some of his first students were children and grandchildren of former slaves. He succeeded against all odds battling racism, tornadoes, financial woes, and even an attempted lynching. In 1918, Dr. Jones faced an angry mob, ready to lynch because they felt he was “stirring up trouble.” Dr. Jones was able to persuade them to spare his life and even “pass the hat” and donate money to his school.
Known as “The Little Professor of Piney Woods”, Dr. Jones had a “head, heart, and hands” philosophy. His philosophy addressed educating the mind, bringing alive a spiritual passion, and required the students to develop three skills by which they could support themselves. He strongly believed in the “dignity of labor.” Many students are prepared to work hard. They came down the piney woods road and arrived at the campus, in a mule-drawn wagon, loaded with vegetables and goods, for their tuition.
In 1929, after learning of the need for a blind school for African-American children, Dr. Jones brought Ms. Martha Louise Foxx to Piney Woods, to be the first teacher and principal of the Mississippi Blind School for Negroes at The Piney Woods School. With little funding and many challenges, The Piney Woods School was open to all who would come. Despite being blind, everyone was expected to work. Students built school buildings, learned canning, and developed agricultural programs for beef and poultry. The girls learned sewing, basket-making, and weaving. During the Great Depression and through the end of World War II, the school faced tremendous hardships. Determined to not losing any of their programs, Dr. Jones, an outstanding fundraiser, took to the roads and traveled all over the country, sharing his vision. With the help of his wife, Grace Jones, set forth student music groups to help raise money for the school. The world-renowned Cotton Blossom Singers, the International Sweethearts of Rhythm swing band, Bluesman Sam Myers, and the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, got their beginning during these challenging years.
In the 1940s, blind students fully participated in school activities, becoming valued members of the Piney Woods community. Upon reaching high school, they were fully integrated into the regular high school classes, which was Dr. Jones and Ms. Foxx’s true legacy to the blind students at Piney Woods. They pioneered the nation’s first mainstream program for blind students. The success of this “experiment” forever changed the stigma of blindness for those who participated.
Hellen Keller visited the school and marveled at the work of Dr. Jones and Ms. Foxx. She appeared before the Mississippi legislature and appealed for funding for blind students, in 1950. The following year, the Mississippi School for Blind Negroes was moved to a campus in Jackson. It was later integrated with white blind students. Dr. Jones was greatly honored for all his contributions, received honorary doctorates from Clark College, Cornell College, University of Dubuque, and Otterbein College. He also earned an honorary Master of Arts from the Tuskegee Institute. His alma mater, The University of Iowa recognized him as their most outstanding alumni in 1954. In 1970, Dr. Jones received the Silver Buffalo Award, the highest commendation of the Boy Scouts of America. In 1981, Dr. Jones was inducted into the Mississippi Hall of Fame for his contributions to the state of Mississippi. He was also the author of several books, including Up Through Difficulties (1910), Piney Woods and Its Story (1923), and the Bottom Rail (1933), respectively. Dr. Jones died in 1975.
Admission SPRING 2022
Are now open!
“A LOG, A CEDAR TREE FOR SHADE, A SHEEP-SHED FOR A HOME, A DREAM, A VISION, A RESISTLESS URGE.”
— LAURENCE CLIFTON JONES
The mission of The Piney Woods School is to provide excellence in education within a Christian community through the creation of an exceptional academic model which supports the tenet that all students can learn, develop a strong work ethic, and lead extraordinary lives through academic achievement and responsible citizenship, but may not have the opportunity to do so for financial or other reasons.
In the spring of 1909, a young black man came to a desperately poor section of Mississippi, located approximately 21 miles southeast of Jackson, known as the piney woods. Born in St. Joseph, Missouri, and educated at the University of Iowa, where he graduated in 1907, Dr. Laurence C. Jones saw the need for schooling among poor blacks in rural Rankin County. He made the acquaintance of both blacks and whites in the piney woods area and finally won their confidence. His task was not easy. He was almost lynched by a group of angry white men who thought he was preaching against white people. By the grace of God, he survived the rope.
Dr. Jones started The Piney Woods School with one student; but soon others came, young and old alike, with only a burning desire to learn. The people in the area saw the earnestness and honesty of the young teacher. They contributed lumber, nails, and small amounts of goods and money to the effort.
From the beginning, The Piney Woods School’s curriculum consisted of vocational subjects along with the three “R’s.” Dr. Jones felt that many of his students would not go on to higher education and must be prepared to earn a living at a useful trade.
In May 1913, at the end of its fifth year, the school received a charter from the governor of Mississippi. Many teachers, black and white, joined the staff and worked for little or no salary as the school endeavored to train teachers for the State Department of Education and to teach handicapped and blind children. In 1950, through the influence of Helen Keller, a special school for the blind was established, and the Piney Woods blind students were transferred to that institution.
Love. Piney Woods cannot exist without love, and without a clear understanding of the ways, it binds us all together. It is love—for oneself, for one another, and then, eventually, for one’s own unique learning journey – that undergirds all of our efforts to help young people find their footing, their calling, and their voice. And it is the legacy of that love that keeps us connected to one another across the generations – and expands our community to literally stretch across the world.
As a residential community of adults and young people, and as a vibrant alumni network of scholar-activists, we are more than a school. We are a family. And so whether our students come to us from the protective cocoon of a loving family or the chaotic swirl of an unsafe environment, our primary job is to create a campus culture in which all people feel that they have a voice, value, and visibility, and where everyone’s daily experiences are rich with ritualistic reminders of why this is the place they belong.
This foundation has always been part of who we have been at Piney Woods. It will remain central to who we become.
To fulfill our goal of helping young people learn what it means to pursue lives of purpose, we must orient them not merely to the journey within; to a deep understanding of ones’ self, one’s passion, and one’s purpose – but also to the journey without: to the world beyond these piney woods, and to the task of using one’s talents in the service of creating a more just and equitable world.
This is why everything we do here must have an eye towards justice: socially, in order to commit to ensuring equality among people: environmentally, in order to commit to protecting the needs of the natural world; and spiritually, in order to commit to honoring each person’s liberty of faith.
This, too, is what it means to educate for the head, the heart, and the hands. This, too, is what the world will come to recognize as a “Piney Woods graduate.”
Faith. What is the contemporary calling of a Christian school that is committed to preparing young people for a complex, multiracial world? And what is the result of a long-term vision in which a core set of design drivers shape every decision at Piney Woods – from residential buildings to staff recruitment to course curricula?
We believe that it will be an enduring culture of enlightenment and a community in which all structures and systems are intentionally designed in order to facilitate both individual fulfillment, Christian charity, and collective harmony. To get there, we must be systemic in the way we understand the interplay between several unlikely pairs: School and Community. Individual and group. Inside and outside. Think and do. Push and Project.
Here, we are taught to love ourselves and one another. Here, we are given the freedom to name what drives us, and what we wish to commit our life’s work towards achieving. Here, we are taught about God’s great power and shown how to channel the great power that resides within each of us. Here, we are put in a position to discover the “resistless urge” that will guide each of us throughout our adult lives.
This is what it means to be a part of the Piney Woods School. This is the vision that will animate our next one hundred years.
Excellence. Currently, Piney Woods has a campus of nearly 2,000 acres, most of which don’t factor into the daily experiences of our students.
In the future, we have a different vision – one in which the entire campus is our classroom and one where the rigor of our intellectual pursuits is augmented by the vigor of our physical exploration.
We believe as Maria Montessori did, that “the human hand allows the mind to reveal itself.”And so we envision a future in which our students’ hands are doing much more than holding a pencil, or taking notes; they are digging, testing, sculpting, building, and revealing. And we envision a campus-wide culture in which the boundary between class and campus, student and adult, and inside and outside is not on of division, but exploration.
At Piney Woods, we’re not merely students of the past. We’re also scientists of the future – and the lands will be our labs.
Empowerment. Understanding what it means to be free is the amount the greatest riddles any of us will face in our lives. Yet rarely in school settings do we all allow and equip young people to experience freedom in any meaningful way. The schedule is packed. The bell is about to ring. The campus is largely off-limits. Equally important, however, is how rarely we ask that any freedom and responsibility, our task as adults is not merely to give young people more autonomy – although that’s a part of it. Instead, we must create a culture in which conscience is the central objective of all learning experiences.
For us, freedom cannot mean merely granting young people the space to say whatever they want to say, or go wherever they want to go. For us, the task is ensuring that our graduates have the space to consider, “Of all the things I can say and do, what must I say? What must I do?” This is the primary journey our school must provide for its students: the journey within.
This is what we are intentionally designed to make room for. This is the indelible mark of a successful Piney Woods graduate.
It is a distinct honor and privilege to share this message with you in my capacity as president of The Piney Woods School. Here, we firmly believe that students – even those of limited financial means – can do extraordinary things, consistent with the opportunities that we make available to them. Our students – both male and female – hail from more than 20 states and foreign jurisdictions; from inner-city urban locations, as well as rural spaces; from points north, south, east, and west. As diverse as they are, our students share this status: they all receive scholarship support to help fund their education here. They also share an amazing result: admission to post-secondary educational institutions.
I know these principles well and in a personal way. While I am the fifth president of this historic institution, I am the first alumnus to head our school. As a former student from a family with limited financial means, I benefitted enormously from the vision of those who preceded us and the generosity of donors who supported them, and who by extension supported me. I later attended world class universities and pursued an impactful legal practice in Washington, DC. Even so, I have always remembered that this institution gave me my start and I never forgot the lesson we still teach our students today: to whom much is given, much is required in return.
We educate the head, hands, and heart to ensure our students develop the cognitive tools necessary to perform in any academically rigorous setting, a strong work ethic and the perseverance to overcome sustained challenges, and a moral compass calibrated on Christian principles. We do this work in a living and learning environment, nestled in the rural, soft rolling hills of Mississippi’s pine belt country; and through a faculty, staff and administration that is uniquely- qualified, strongly committed, compassionate, empathetic, and continuously improving. From our demonstration farm to our classrooms, our dining hall to our residence halls, our students have always been an integral part of the development of our community.
As you learn more about us, I am confident you will quickly appreciate why we have an abiding love for this humble place and hold its rich history and unique culture in such high regard. If you are a prospective student, you should know that we encourage independent thinking and nurture self-discipline through a strong supportive structure. If you are a prospective donor or partner, know that we put our students first in all that we do and it is support like yours that has yielded a consistent record of success.
Join with us by sharing our school with worthy and qualified applicants, and by visiting our giving page. Thank you in advance for exploring our community and supporting the important work that we’ve committed ourselves to fulfill for over a century through grace, we shall continue for many more years to come.