Story By LIQUID CREATIVE
Of Mississippi’s six boarding schools, only one in the state offers family-style homes rather than traditional dorms. This distinctive aspect is a critical component of French Camp Academy and has provided a unique and fulfilling experience for hundreds of students in the school’s 100-year history.
For Sam Howard, French Camp offered a chance to escape his troubled home life and live in a home where he could benefit from structure and loving discipline. Sam’s father left the family when he was two years old, and his mother struggled with drugs. When he was sent to French Camp, he was placed in a homelike environment with house parents. It was his first experience with what a real home life should be like.
After a few years, Sam had the opportunity to resume life in his mother’s home. Although he was happy to be with her, his life quickly deteriorated into parties, drinking, and skipping school before he was even 13 years old. He was sent back to French Camp, and this time he was old enough to realize that the loving discipline provided by his house parents, Randy and Joy Martin, was what he needed to get his life on the right path. On his first day back, Sam says he decided to do his best and turn his life around.
Randy Martin says that right away, Sam became a leader in the home. “Sam was grateful to be here,” says Randy. “He would talk to the other kids and help them with their problems. He really became a leader in his time here.”
The Martins chose French Camp when they were looking for a ministry opportunity soon after they both graduated from a college in South Carolina. Neither are Mississippi natives, and they had no knowledge of French Camp when they began their search for a place where they could put their Bible training and counseling education to good use.
“We were planning on becoming missionaries,” said Randy. “We wanted to get jobs for a few years first to pay off our student loans. Little did we know when we got to French Camp that our long-term opportunity for ministry was right here.”
The Martins see a huge benefit in the family-style homes over a traditional dorm. “I get to use my degree in Pastoral Counseling every day,” said Randy. It’s a lot better than seeing a child for a one-hour session; I get to counsel them on a life-on-life basis.”
Many students who come to French Camp are coming from home situations that are less than ideal. The school has specifically chosen family-style homes in an effort to let kids experience a fulfilling home life and all that comes with it—loving parental figures, chores, family activities, and learning to cooperate and live with other kids.
Most French Camp students live in homes with 10–14 other children. All the homes are presided over by carefully selected house parents who have a heart for nurturing and supporting children. All the residences feature homelike amenities such as a common kitchen, sitting room with television and games, and several bedroom suites.
Randy Martin feels that students flourish in the homelike setting. “We usually see an improvement in behavior in just a few weeks,” he says, “but what we are really seeking is a heart change.” We want these kids to feel loved and accepted. We want them to know that all the structure and routine is for their benefit.”
“French Camp to me is home,” said Sam. It’s the place I grew up, it’s just a place I love so much.”
Located just off the peaceful Natchez Trace Parkway in French Camp, MS, French Camp Academy offers a safe, stable Christian school for students in grades 1–12. French Camp is a co-educational school offering a unique blend of a boarding school and home experience. For more information, visit www.frenchcamp.org.