Opening long-awaited step in school journey

Published 5:00 am Monday, August 4, 2003

From staff and volunteers moving books into classrooms to thesound of sprinklers showering water on freshly-planted sod, thesigns of the approaching start of school are everywhere at theMississippi School of the Arts.

It has been over three years since Dr. Vicki Bodenhamer came toBrookhaven as the school’s executive director. Through restorationof dilapidated Whitworth College buildings and some legislative andfunding uncertainties, Bodenhamer remained confident the school forthe state’s gifted arts students would become a reality.

“I never had a doubt it would happen,” Bodenhamer said Fridayafternoon as she walked across campus following a meeting at thenew Student Life Center. “Striving for excellence is not easy.”

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The director’s confidence was reaffirmed with Thursday’s arrivalof a piece of equipment that is important to the school’smission.

“I knew this was going to be an arts school when the piano truckshowed up yesterday,” Bodenhamer said.

The piano was moved into Johnson Institute, which will serve asMSA’s main classroom building. Bodenhamer said the piano will haveto be set up a week before it can be tuned.

The director has been joined on campus by six full-timeinstructors and other faculty members. MSA now has 30 staff membersranging from administrators to office staff to dormsupervisors.

“We have a highly-talented group of faculty members,” Bodenhamersaid. “They’re ready to go.”

MSA’s inaugural class arrives Sunday and will begin classesWednesday.

“It’s a journey, and it will continue to be a journey,”Bodenhamer said of MSA’s path to reality.

Referring to a quote for artist Vincent Van Gogh, Bodenhamersaid, “great things happen when a lot of small things cometogether.”

Things big and small have come together since the MississippiLegislature approved creation of the school during the 1999legislative session.

In funding matters, the legislature authorized a total of $18.9million for planning, building renovations and new construction.The City of Brookhaven donated the campus land and contributedfunds from a $3 million bond issue and a $1.5 million HUD grant tohelp create the school.

Bodenhamer also touted a partnership with the Brookhaven SchoolDistrict.

The district used state and bond issue funds to renovate andexpand Brookhaven High School. MSA students will take math, scienceand foreign language classes at BHS while social studies, Englishand arts-related classes will be taught on the MSA campus.

“They’ve been incredibly cooperative and helpful,” Bodenhamersaid of city school district officials. “They’ve gone out of theirway to accommodate potential students and parents.”

Bodenhamer said district officials had maintained an open doorand were always willing to help provide information and answerquestions.

“That means a lot in a busy school day,” Bodenhamer said.

Bodenhamer also praised volunteers in the school’s ParentCommunity Council.

The council was formed to provide a venue to maximizeopportunities for collaboration between the community, parents andMSA faculty and staff in an effort to better serve students.Offering a “home away home” atmosphere for MSA students is thecouncil’s goal.

The PCC consists of several smaller councils or networks thatfocus on particular aspects of students’ lives. They include theHost Family Network, Health and Safety Network, Community ServiceNetwork, Entertainment and Recreation Council, Church ActivitiesCouncil and a Volunteer Network.

“To know you have such support network like the council is oneof the strongest resources a school can have,” Bodenhamer said.