Brewton, Alabama

Kids walk the halls, wearing Roll-Tide hoodies and and War-Eagle sweatshirts. There are children of every size. Some eighth-graders are tall enough to qualify for the SEC. Some fifth-graders weigh fifty pounds—soaking wet.

Early morning—it’s sleepy here in Brewton. A chill is in the air. The middle school is just off Highway 31, tucked in the woods of South Alabama.

Kids walk the halls, wearing Roll-Tide hoodies and War-Eagle sweatshirts. There are children of every size. Some eighth-graders are tall enough to qualify for the SEC. Some fifth-graders weigh fifty pounds—soaking wet.

The walls are lined with art. A drawing of Harriet Tubman. A cardboard cutout of Mark Twain. A painting of Nick Saban riding an elephant.

Mrs. Cave tells me, “Art’s important here, we value creativity. We even have a piano lab. I mean, our kids actually get free piano lessons…”

Lucky kids.

Down the hall, the cafeteria is quiet. Miss Betty, Miss Leola, and Miss Diane work the kitchen shift. Miss Leola is renowned for her sweet tea—the same kind your granny used to make. It’s sugary enough to break your jaw.

I ask Miss Leola what ingredients make her tea so special.

“Don’t know,” she says. “Sugar’n water, I reckon.”

I reckon.

She’s an old-fashioned cook who knows what she’s doing. They tell me that sometimes families visit school to eat. They rave about the fare.

That’s because this is not ordinary food. And this is no average school. It’s an institution run by mothers, Sunday school leaders, and small-town saints.

I’m talking salt-of-the-earth people like Mrs. Gray, Mrs. Hart, and Miss Leah. People who don’t just work here, but who offer shoulders for crying.

A girl hugs her math teacher during class and says, “Love you, Miss McKenzie.”

Her teacher says the same thing.

You don’t see that much anymore.

“We’re lucky,” says the guidance counselor. “I’ve heard of schools where kids fight, and teachers hate their jobs. That’s not us. We love our babies.”

This is unlike the modern academic world. A universe where children have become numbers, where deputies pat them down, waving metal-detectors. Some public school systems seem more like penitentiaries.

Not here. This place is Cracker Barrel.

Even so, your nightly news anchor wants you to believe schools like this are a myth. They want you to think this country is going to hell. Reporters claim that education is getting dangerous, that art classes are outdated. That good humans don’t exist.

Well, I wish they could shake hands with the tall black kid I met. The nice-looking boy had a firm grip. He looked me in the eye, like well-behaved young men often do. I can’t help thinking he probably throws one hell of a spiral.

I asked the young man how he liked school.

“Middle school?” he says. “Oh man, I love it. This is my family.”

Family. Yeah.

They’re doing just fine in Brewton.


  1. Regina - February 4, 2017 3:50 pm

    Hallelujah for Brewton. To bad those schiols are few and far between.

    • Carol DeLater - February 4, 2017 4:27 pm

      I don’t think they ARE few and far between. I think there are lots of them, but they just don’t make the news.

  2. Gayle Dawkins - February 4, 2017 4:08 pm

    Thank you for this Sean. After this weeks news I needed it.

  3. Carol DeLater - February 4, 2017 4:26 pm

    I live in a school district where the high school is as big as a college campus. However, just over the county line are the “country” schools where we transported our grandsons…illegally giving a fake address so they could attend the smaller hometown schools. They are as you describe your Brewton school. We were more involved in those schools than we ever were in our own where my daughter attended. We couldn’t be…we just did not have the income required to be noticed by the administration. No money…no sports. We were lucky our grands went to the smaller schools and were football players and wrestling stars. We worked the concession stands and supported the schools in any way we could.

    We didn’t feel that “family” in our own school system but we sure embraced it in those smaller country schools that turned out higher average grades and more graduates than the big ones. Our grands knew the love of teachers that were not scared to give a hug for fear of sexual accusations.

    Cracker Barrel? Just good old common sense and lots of love.
    xx, Carol

  4. Bambies - February 4, 2017 5:31 pm

    My granddaughters are growing up in Brewton and attend Middle School there. Since I live in Georgia and don’t get to see them as often as I like, stories like this make my heart sing.

  5. Joseph Mullan - February 4, 2017 5:51 pm

    Seriously it’s just got to be the best .. .Jamie’s from there and everyone else should be this story ..Thank You Sean Dietrich
    again .just love your inner thoughts and narrative of present day situations that we can all relate to ….even here in Bonnie Scotland just love reading your work ..thank you again ..

  6. Debbie Galladora - February 4, 2017 7:58 pm

    Your stories touch my heart…

  7. Kim Pearson - February 5, 2017 12:36 am

    Love this. You should visit Fairhope High School. I’ve had 3 kids graduate there. I’ve seen kids I thought would be picked on. Not so. When my youngest graduated, the Homecoming queen was a special needs kid in a wheel chair. My son, as SGA president, presented her with a huge bouquet of flowers and a heartfelt hug. She was all smiles! I for one
    am tired of people knocking the younger generation. I think they’re just fine.

  8. LeeAnn Robinson - February 5, 2017 8:41 pm

    Please keep writing, Sean. Essay by essay you’ve reminded me of the good in ordinary people and the everyday extraordinary of just living our little lives in the South… and America overall.

  9. Mary Ellen Hall - February 6, 2017 4:24 am

    I LOVE this story!! My Elementary School was like this school, back in 1963!!

  10. Charaleen Wright - April 2, 2019 4:30 am


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