Sep 3, 2012

The Milton Hershey School

John and I have visited many schools around the world. The Milton Hershey School in Hershey, Pennsylvania is in a class of its own. It all came about at the request of Kitty, Milton Hershey’s wife, to start a school for orphan boys. Unable to have children of their own they created the Hershey Industrial School for orphan boys in 1909. The school has grown through the years and changed to meet the needs of today’s world.

We have visited schools in the jungle made of bamboo without any conveniences, and Buddhist schools for orphans, and private schools that cater to children from wealthy families, but nothing prepared us for the Milton Hershey School. On a hill above the town of Hershey is Founders Hall which is impressive inside and out. The marble rotunda has an interior height of 74 feet makes it the second largest in the world. The daily tours all start in the rotunda and it is where we met our guide, Jay Johnson, who with his wife, was at one time a house parent. His pride and enthusiasm for the school was catching as he showed us the 2700 seat state-of-the-art auditorium, the cafeteria and other aspects of the building. Watching the 20-minute video presentation about the school and its students left us a bit teary eyed. Founders Hall may be impressive but the story of the school is even more so.

Originally, the school was for orphan boys who helped out by doing farm work. Today the school population is divided equally between boys and girls with an ethnic mix and students from all over the United States. Students no longer need to be orphans but the family must be below the poverty level, between 4 and 15 years old, free of emotional or behavioral problems that would be disruptive to learning, and born in the United States. They have an 87% graduation rate and over 90% go on to higher education. The alumna includes diplomats, doctors, entrepreneurs, educators and other productive members of society, which has been the school’s goal from the beginning.

Basically, Milton and Catherine Hershey left all their money in trust for the school so the school never asks for donations and part of all the money from chocolate sales fund the school making it one of the richest schools in the world. They figure it cost the school about $80,000 a year per student and they have nearly 2000 students. The 10,000-acre campus is home to a health center, performance gym, classrooms, student homes each housing 10 to 12 students, an ice skating rink, lighted tennis courts, 7,000-seat football stadium, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, and the list goes on and on. The clothing store has everything the students need from bathing suits to dress attire. The food service supplies three healthy meals a day with snacks between meals. The 159 sprawling, beautiful red brick houses are scattered around the campus creating an upscale residential look. The students have chores to do and work on the merit system. The more merits they earn the more privileges they have.

As amazing as it may seem the school is looking for both staff and new students. I am sure some of my former students would have benefited greatly if they could have attended the school. And, to think eating Hershey chocolate made it all happen!