From farm to campus

Published 7:00 am Friday, February 28, 2014

ALTERNATIVE HISTORY: The Pearl River Central Center for Alternative Education campus on Burgetown Road once was home to the St. Michael’s Farm for Boys.  Photo by Alexandra Hedrick

ALTERNATIVE HISTORY: The Pearl River Central Center for Alternative Education campus on Burgetown Road once was home to the St. Michael’s Farm for Boys.
Photo by Alexandra Hedrick

Before the property on Burgetown Road was home to Pearl River Central’s Center for Alternative School, it was home to St. Michael’s Farm for Boys. Both facilities were established with a similar goal of helping at-risk students.

John Houston, a member of the St. Michael’s Foundation board of directors and former interim director of St. Michael’s Farm for boys, said Father Victor Menard started the farm in 1954.

“It was designed to help adjudicated juvenile boys who were sent by the court for 2 years to be rehabilitated,” Houston said.

Houston said he has been involved in some way with St. Michael’s since 1955 and has been on the board of directors for about 30 years.

After Father Mernard died, the operations of St. Michael’s Farm for Boys was turned over to St. Francis Academy from Kansas, Houston said.

He said the boys did much of the construction on the buildings and the facility. Also, with the help of professionals, the boys living at the facility built the chapel, which still remains.

Houston said the chapel held daily services and Sunday service, which the boys attended.

The boys each had chores and were responsible for the upkeep of the grounds and the welfare of the farm animals, Houston said.

“It was a form of therapy and a way to teach the boys responsibility,” Houston said about the boys’ work with the animals.

When Pearl River County School District bought the campus in 2008, St. Michael’s Foundation decided to take the money from the sale of the campus and give back to the community.

Houston said the foundation provides scholarships for Pearl River Community College students and uses the funds to help individuals and the community as much as possible.

There were more success stories than failures at the school, Houston said. He said many of the students went on to college or served in the military and one student even got his doctorate degree.

“By and large the students that went through there were able to turn their lives around and become productive members of society,” Houston said.