Kerry Baker | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Kerry Baker

Kerry Baker.

Kerry Baker.

Mississippians might remember the small town of Smithville in north Mississippi, which was hit particularly hard in April 2011 by a tornado. The EF-5 category tornado, the first in Mississippi since 1966, produced winds upward of 205 mph and killed more than 35 people, reported the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

Kerry Baker, the librarian at Smithville High School, said the school didn't escape nature's fury that day.

"The tornado wiped out the school. Right now, we're on a temporary campus until August of 2013," she said in a press release. In the library, the tornado shifted the roof and destroyed literacy materials, including more than 800 books.

Baker, who is working toward a master's degree in literacy education online through the University of Mississippi, is rebuilding a library for Smithville one book at a time.

Chad O'Brian, the school's principal, passed information to Baker after the storm about a "Beyond Words" grant offered through Dollar General School Library Relief Fund. Baker completed the grant application as part of her class work and, although she wasn't required to submit it, she did. Weeks later, Baker learned Smithville would receive $15,000 from the fund to provide replacement items for the library, including books, media and equipment destroyed by the tornado.

"[T]his grant goes a long way toward helping us meet our literacy goals," O'Brian said. "We're ecstatic to have the $15,000. We have a chance for our library to be state-of-the-art, and there's nothing that our kids will lack for."

The Beyond Words grant, combined with Baker's literacy efforts, will help Smithville rebuild stronger than before.

"We need more information on literacy," Baker said in the release. "It's something that is a part of everyday life. If I can learn a little bit more about how to diagnose some of these problems early on, then maybe I can help the kids out to where they need to be and prevent some problems later on. It's been said that you spend kindergarten through third grade teaching the kids how to read, then you begin to teach them."

For more information on the Long-Term Community Recovery Plan for Smithville, go to For more information about Old Miss' Online Literacy Education Program, visit

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