Fondren Steps In to Help Boyd

Many of the walls at Boyd Elementary School are in desperate need of new paint, among other issues.

Many of the walls at Boyd Elementary School are in desperate need of new paint, among other issues. Courtesy Chuck Wise

From the front sidewalk to Boyd Elementary School, the modern and recently renovated façade does not reflect what the visitor soon encounters in the school hallways. After walking through the foyer, decorated with a Carl Wolfe painting of the school's namesake Mary Lee Boyd and a painting of Medgar Evers by local Jackson artist Anthony Difatta, the section of the school in good repair ends.

Within the fourth- and fifth-grade halls, many of the classrooms reflect the school's need for further repairs. Paint peeling off the walls in classrooms suggests moisture leakage from the exterior of the school.

Upon closer inspection, the rooms with peeling paint also have rusted window frames. One room has rotten, termite-infested wood cabinetry that splinters. Further within the school in the third grade hallway, the pungent odor of urine permeates the corridor. That bathroom belies problematic plumbing, a wall missing a whole cinderblock and the ceiling has broken tiles.

Luckily for Boyd, obstetrician Dr. Helen Barnes and the Fondren Renaissance Foundation are helping to ensure the school receives the attention it needs. FRF is a non-profit organization that works to improve the standard of living throughout the Fondren community.

Volunteering as a liaison for FRF, Dr. Barnes became involved with Boyd in 2001, when she assessed the school's needed repairs were detrimental to the health of the students.

"Health hazards ought to get anybody's attention," Barnes said. "Asthma, bronchitis, and all sorts of respiratory problems come up when (children) are in an environment of mold, mites and chemical odors.

Boyd's principal, Julia Harris-Brown, attributes the subsequent repairs to community involvement.

"(Dr. Barnes has) been valuable to us," Harris-Brown says. "The more she's talking about (a project), it will happen."

After discussing with Jackson Public Schools the need for a paint job in the fourth and fifth grade classrooms, Barnes got the task signed off in October 2007. JPS agreed to supply paint and other supplies for the project, while Barnes arranged for Hinds County inmates to perform the labor.

However, in March, JPS was unable to balance its budget while still keeping all their monetary promises. After JPS' budget projections, Michael Thomas, deputy superintendent of JPS operations, said it was clear as early as January that the JPS budget would come up short this year.

"We had some additional expenditures that we hadn't anticipated, and some of our revenue predictions didn't pan out," Thomas said.

"The difference between revenue and expenditures is currently projected at $1.6 million. We're hoping we can make that smaller."

This news did not reach Dr. Barnes until May 29, just days before the June 3 start date for the project, and only after she contacted JPS. Maintenance director James Belk told Barnes the money would not be available.

Seeing the dwindling likelihood of the project's completion through JPS funding this summer, Barnes realized she would have to find funding elsewhere. The annual funding from FRF is typically $5,000 for Boyd Elementary.

After Barnes requested the money during the final week of June, FRF wrote an $1,800 dollar check for 100 gallons of paint for the week of July 7. Painting on the fourth-grade hallways began at the school Friday, July 11.

After Barnes worked with JPS for funding for nearly nine months, FRF funded and began work on the project in less than one month. This quick action will allow the project's completion before the start of the school year Aug. 7.

Thanks to Dr. Barnes' efforts and FRF's swift financial support, the children at Boyd Elementary will return to a school where, at least, the paint isn't peeling off the walls.


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