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So. Normal ups awareness

By Staff
The Southern Normal School, located on Kirkland Rd. in Brewton, is a satellite campus of Alabama State University (ASU) which offers graduate level courses to learning professionals looking to advance their educations, while adminstering grant-funded youth-oriented programs in the local community. That's what I learned when I visited the campus this week, and sat down with Dr. Margaret Breland Bradley, the school's director, and program coordinator Carolyn Jennings.
And I learned more than that. The graduate courses offered at the school all take place at night, from 5 p.m. on, and are taught by professors who travel to the campus from their homes throughout south Alabama and Northwest Florida. There are currently 96 students enrolled in the courses. Most are from this immediate area, and benefit greatly from being able to earn credits closer to home than they could otherwise.
There are 25 employees at Southern Normal. This includes Bradley and Jennings, as well as administrative assistants, a course counselor, security personnel and people paid by grant monies to work in the local public schools on Southern Normal's behalf. One of the great programs they provide is called Learning to Read Through the Arts, which helps kids get a handle on reading while learning about music and other creative pursuits.
The site itself -- which now constitutes some 400 acres -- is one of historical significance. Southern Normal began as a boarding school for African American Students in 1911, when those kids would have found it hard to get a decent education anywhere else in the vicinity.
I should state here that anyone who knows Southern Normal inside and out probably should have stopped reading a couple of paragraphs ago -- you're not going to learn anything new here. And my intention is not to try and tell people what they already know. But as a newcomer to the area, I had an interest in going out to the school, and getting a better feel for this institution which plays a role in our community, but a role not always as clearly and publicly defined as its supporters and some others might like.
That's been especially true lately, as the school got a bit of vaguely unfavorable press in a Montgomery newspaper a few weeks ago, thanks to questions about its programs being raised by members of ASU's faculty senate.
The questions, and the content of the article, can be encapsulated thusly: Just what's going on out there at Southern Normal, and why is ASU supporting it? The implication seemed to be that there was no good reason for a state-financed university to fund this small campus way down there in Brewton, where they don't even seem to be teaching that many courses.
That's a little oversimplified, but pretty close. Bradley hasn't publicly responded to the faculty senate's statements, and didn't while we were talking the other day. When I asked about the situation, she said only that the issue had been dealt with at the university level, and that Southern Normal had ASU's full support.
That's good news, because the school does excellent work here, and is hoping to do more in the future. Bradley envisions Southern Normal growing to become a more full-service campus, offering third- and fourth-year university courses as a compliment to Jeff Davis, Reid State and other community colleges in the area.
That would allow people in this region to get a four-year degree minus much of the travel that now requires -- great news to people pursuing an education while working or taking care of a family.
To get to that level, Bradley says the school needs local assistance, but not the kind that might immediately spring to mind. They're not looking for monetary help, but rather the kind of support the paper seeks to offer here: public acknowledgement that the school does valuable work, that it can do more for us in the future and that we want and need it here. That't it. And that's a small price to pay for the current and potential benefits to the community spreading out from the picturesque campus.
Despite any unfocused barbs or open-ended allegations made by faculty senators likely immersed in university politics at the time, from this perspective Southern Normal is a good thing.
And it could someday be an even better thing. But until such time as that occurs: The Southern Normal School, located on Kirkland Rd. in Brewton, is a satellite campus of Alabama State University (ASU) which offers graduate level courses to learning professionals looking to advance their educations, while adminstering grant-funded youth-oriented programs in the local community. They haven't felt compelled to portray themselves as anything more or less, nor should they.