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May 12, 1999

Red Bird Mission School Offers a Top-Notch Education in Appalachia

by Mary Beth Coudal

General Board of Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church

"In the past four years, I have been a dormitory student at Red Bird Mission School I have received one of the best educations possible. The staff of Red Bird Mission School is dedicated to preparing students for the harsh world we are to face after graduation. I have learned many important values about life, but mostly I have received an excellent Christian education."

Brian S., who wrote this letter to the quarterly Red Bird newsletter, The Cardinal, is a teen with a 3.75 grade point average bound for college. At Red Bird nearly 65 percent of the students go on to college, a first for many children in their families. In fact, more than one-half of the parents who send their children to Red Bird do not have high school degrees. Brian comes from an impoverished Appalachian neighborhood where 75 percent of all households live below the poverty line.

Red Bird school in Beverly, Ky., is part of the Red Bird Mission, founded in 1921, as an educational center, but now includes a dental clinic, a medical center, Senior housing, a Senior Citizens Center, and a community library among many other programs and services. The General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) has supported the mission of Red Bird through its National Mission Institutions program, a nation-wide caring connection that serves, nurtures and empowers the marginalized, especially women and children, in towns, cities, and rural areas like the coal-mining community of Beverly. The aim of Red Bird Mission is to minister to whole persons in the name of Christ and help them fulfill their potential.

Nearly 300 students attend Red Bird school from kindergarten through high school with 140 of those attending the high school. Red Bird staff and teachers encourage young people to participate in extracurricular activities such as yearbook, band, choir, theater, cheerleading, track, basketball, academic clubs, and special interest groups. Approximately ten boys and ten girls live in a family-like atmosphere in the dormitories.

The differences between Red Bird and the public schools in the area are Red Bird's proximity to the students, smaller class loads, Daily Devotions, two Bible Study classes mandatory for graduation, and the small amount of tuition required of students. On a sliding scale, families are asked to pay between $8 and $55 per month, yet no child is turned away for lack of ability to pay.

"Our mission is to be in mission. If we were not here, they (the students) would very little opportunity. A lot of the students would be sifted out of the system and dropped. We're giving young people a chance to make a better life for themselves," said Brian Barker, Director of Development.

"What we try to do is allow the students to reach their potential. With high school students, we encourage them to go to college and seek financial assistance. If they don't want to go college, we provide them with courses in technology, so they have skills computer, drafting, auto shop and office skills among others," said Barker. Mr. Barker noted studies show that less education increases the risk of accidents at the workplace. Even students who want to pursue non-college careers must have as much education as possible for their own safety.

United Methodists and the GBGM support the school with their contributions to the Advance and by participation in volunteer outreach to the mission. Ninety percent of Red Bird Mission's 150 annual church work groups come from United Methodist congregations. These volunteers help break the poverty cycle by making Red Bird a top-notch school that supports students like Brian S. academically and spiritually.

Brian ended his letter to The Cardinal with this statement: "In closing I would like to thank everyone at Red Bird who has contributed time and effort in keeping Red Bird such a beautiful place. The people and students of Red Bird will always be dear to me and my family for the support and help in preparing me for future goals with a Christian education."

Through the GBGM National Mission Institutions and donations received for tuition support through The Advance #773728-4, United Methodists are making a difference in the lives of youths in this Kentucky community.

For more information on the 102 GBGM-sponsored National Mission Institutions, make contact with Jerald L. Scott at 212-870-3843,e-mail jscott@gbgm-umc.org.



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