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…”
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.”
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 Reporters claim that education is getting dangerous, that art classes are outdated.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.”
They’re doing just fine in Brewton.