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From the Bronx to Boarding School: Francine Haig-Jones '00 Shares Life Experience with Highschoolers

posted on 11/28/2012

By Mary Ellen Collins

"Life is beautiful! I'm excited every day!" says Francine Haig-Jones '00. She carries this enthusiasm into all of her positions at Mississippi's Piney Woods School, where she serves as the chair of the Social Studies Department, advisor to the Student Government Association, assistant coach for the girls' volleyball team and the boys' soccer team, and group leader for the spring 2013 tour to Spain and France.

Piney Woods is a long way from the Bronx, where Francine grew up with dreams of becoming a jazz singer; or a truck driver, like her father; or join the Navy, like her uncle. She considered college, but the lure of the stage was too strong, and she joined a little NYC band as their lead singer.

EC alumna Francine Haig-Jones '00
Francine Haig-Jones '00
graduated from Eckerd's Program for Experienced Learners with a Bachelor's degree in American Studies with an emphasis in African-American history and a minor in Women's and Gender Studies. She teaches at the historically African-American boarding school Piney Woods School in Piney Woods, Miss.

"My mother was not all that happy that I didn't go to college, but she was ultimately excited about the idea that maybe I would become a famous jazz singer." 

But, marriage to her high school sweetheart, a Marine, and the birth of two daughters changed her course, and the young family lived the nomadic military life in places as vastly different as Alabama, Puerto Rico, and Japan. The stay-at-home mom and busy volunteer followed in her own mother's footsteps.

"I grew up in a family that was very socially and politically active, in the civil rights movement," she says. "I like to say, 'My mother was on drugs. She drug us everywhere!'"

Haig-Jones was a Girl Scout leader and a Red Cross volunteer for years. She also served on the board of directors of the United Service Organizations (USO); was one of the founding members of a crisis center for abused wives at Camp Lejeune; and held the distinction of being the only female president of the NAACP in all of Asia. Along the way, she also took courses offered for military wives; got divorced and married another Marine; and had two sons.  

After her husband retired, they settled in Tampa and Haig-Jones started progress toward her dream of going to law school by enrolling in the Program for Experienced Learners, majoring in American Studies with an emphasis in African-American History and a minor in Women and Gender Studies. She also hosted Gospel Saturday Night on SpiritFM in Tampa.

After graduating, she taught elementary school locally before moving to Texas with the intention of taking the LSAT. Every week, she and Ronald flew back to Tampa to co-host the radio show. When the two of them attended a conference for his fraternity, they met the president of Piney Woods, who invited them to come and speak to the students about the media arts.

Within a few months, Ronald was managing the school's radio station and the media arts program while Francine discovered a new passion in working with teenagers – and the two of them were living on campus, and returning to their home in Texas on school breaks.

"When I first came here, I did not want to be engaged with high school students," she says. "But I've learned to respect them for who they are, and challenge them to be more than they are … and they rise, no matter what. I love my students and I absolutely love what I do! To be able to teach what I know and what I've learned is the best experience I've ever had."

Haig-Jones is neither resting on her laurels nor thinking of retirement. She imagines spending another year at the school, and then returning to Texas to downsize, and attend Thurgood Marshall Law School. She doesn't rule out the possibility of practicing law, but that's not her prime objective.

"I'm going to law school for me. It's something I've always wanted to do. I really want to understand the law, and I'm really interested in women's rights and human rights issues, and if I have the opportunity to have a little practice in that area, that would be wonderful." 

This feature is the second in a series of profiles of Eckerd alumni, faculty and staff who embody Eckerd's longstanding culture of service through their livelihoods and/or their volunteer activities.Through speaker presentations, campus initiatives and these profiles, Eckerd College's 2012-2013 Presidential Events Series: Cultivating Service: People, Politics, Planet demonstrates that service for the greater good can be achieved through scientific research, civil and public servant leadership, environmental protection, social justice action and commentary, foreign diplomacy, time in the armed forces, pro bono legal counsel and hands-on projects.

Read Previous Service Profiles:
Darden Rice '00

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