U.S Highwy 80 splits the Black Belt open like a butcher knife does a ripe watermelon from Montgomery to Cuba, AL.  At best it is not an exciting drive.  And when you add in rain and nightfall.  Well, about all you can think about is getting to your bed.

So it was on a recent Tuesday night when I left Demopolis headed toward Montgomery with windshield wipers flapping in the dark.  The two-lane portion just west of Uniontown was brutal every time you met an 18-wheeler and the spray from its tires.

But even with this, I was glad I was in Demopolis to attend the “Donor Appreciation Celebration” of the Demopolis City Schools Foundation.  It was an up close and personal look at the spirit of a community and the value they place on education.  Now in its 23rd year, this community of less than 7,500 and a school system of less than 2,300 students has an endowment of a whopping $1.1 million that is funding grants for teachers every year..

Amanda Barnes is the part-time director of the foundation and brought the glad tidings of new grants to three teachers this night.

One for $9,961 was to support the vertical alignment of the broadcasting programs at Demopolis High, Demoplis Middle and U.S. Jones Elementary.  Staff involved are Courtney Kerby, Meggin Mayben and Amelia Mackey.

Westside Elementary got $7,228 to introduce and implement the Lego Education curriculum.  Terri Speegle will coordinate this effort.

And U.S. Jones Elementary (3-5) will implement the next phase of their “Mission Airborne” which is all about teaching coding and working with robotics.  This was for $5,409.  Amelia Mackey is the coordinator.  (Several students from Jones were at the event to give attendees a first hand look at what they are doing.)

Traditionally the foundation has awarded $50,000 a year in grants.  But this was increased to $60,000 in the 2016017 school year.  (In addition to the $25,000 awarded this Tuesday night, another $35,000 was handed out lat fall.)

Barnes reports that about $1.1 million has been given out since 1993.

Every time I attend a state school board meeting I hear discussions that seem basically detached from the real world of education (what is going on in our classrooms.)  I hear about huge contracts going to consultants and policy decisions based on numbers as if each child in school is nothing more than a collection of data points.

Then I sit in a room on a rainy night in Demopolis and am reminded that communities still care about their public schools, that mamas and daddies and grandmas and grandmas and businesses of all types still believe our purest expression of democracy is still demonstrated by how we treat our children.  ALL our children.

I have long believed that Santa Claus does not live in either Washington or Montgomery.  Instead, he lives in the hearts of local citizens who honestly care for their fellow man.  So instead of waiting for someone to come along and do something for them, they put on their red and white suit and do it for themselves.

This attitude was on display the night I was in Demopolis.