Community Involvement Makes Difference at Southern Middle

Published by The Pilot. – Friday, June 25, 2010

Southern Middle School has worked hard to build a bridge between community and school.

This effort is reflected when approaching the school. Trees, pine straw landscaping, picnic tables and a pergola can be seen in front of the school. This landscaping is a result of the efforts of the school PTA.

Jennifer Berk, former PTA president, had a vision to improve the school grounds and worked tirelessly to that end.

With the help of a landscape committee, chaired by Charles Bennett, Jeff Batton and PTA members, they transformed the front of the school. Bennett and Batton spent numerous weekends working on the grounds.

The PTA raised money with the help of community businesses and PTA members. Aurora Hills Farm and Nursery followed a master plan, relocating existing trees and planting new trees and shrubs. The result – a beautiful transformation of the school grounds.

Berk stepped down last year, but not before handing the torch to her friend, Judy Callister.

Callister has kept Berk’s vision alive.

Recently, she oversaw the cement pouring in the pergola, which was built by Riley Patton for his Eagle Scout project. Patton is a former student of Southern Middle and wanted to give back to the school that had shaped him for future endeavors.

In addition to the pergola and landscaping, yet another project was undertaken by Keith Dickson, a current eighth-grade student, and his mentor. Dickson had a desire to learn about landscaping, and Dr. Robin Moore, Compass Project director, worked to find just the right mentor for him. As a result, Dickson was matched with Donnie Bryant, a landscaper in the community, who also had a desire to work with children. The two have spent many hours outdoors on the Southern Middle campus learning the various names of trees and plants on the premises.

Bryant saw a way to give Dickson an even stronger experience in landscaping. He assisted him in the process of designing a layout and worked with Dickson to revamp the median and flagpole area that are located in the front of the school. Dickson beamed with pride at the work they had accomplished.

Southern Middle has a strong mentoring program that has grown from 40 mentors its first year to 80 presently. The mentors spend an hour each week with a student. The Compass Project has a goal of 110 mentors by this spring. This program has had a positive impact and continues to be an inspiration to the entire Southern Middle community, a spokesman said.

Jennifer Garner, a sixth-grade teacher, said the the program had literally turned students around. She said students involved in the program had shown marked leadership skills and academic success. She said she is thankful that Southern Middle was chosen for the Compass mentoring program