Communities connected through Katrina and a camera lens

BAY ST. LOUIS, MS (WLOX) - By Krystal Allan – bio | email

BAY ST. LOUIS (WLOX) - They weren't the story-tellers many expected to see in the aftermath of Katrina.  But, down they came, a group of high school students from Ohio ready to capture and share South Mississippi's story. It unfolded in a half-hour documentary called "Pieces of Paradise."

"It was just amazing to me that they were high school students with the magnitude and depth of what they were doing," said Liz Bosarge, Bay High School teacher.

Bosarge was featured in the documentary. She spent time showing the students around the devastated community during their seven day visit.

"They cried just like they were the ones who had lost everything. I took them to my property, and they cried with us," said Bosarge.

Hoover High School in North Canton, Ohio, adopted Bay High following Hurricane Katrina.  Students raised more than $14,000 to help the students of Bay High. Instead of just donating resources, students donated their skills as aspiring broadcast journalists to reach out to the people of Bay St. Louis.

Their efforts, according to former principal Marca Alexander, created a special connection with students attending Bay High at the time.

"I think it was really touching to the kids, because they could tell the story on their terms. It really gave them an outlet and really a voice beyond the local community," said Alexander.

Bosarge said the students' presence got Bay St. Louis students traumatized by the storm to open up.

"I know for experience I had three of my athletes who rode out the storm and did not talk about it. They finally opened up. Their dad told them (the Ohio students) that had it not been for them, he didn't know if he could have ever gotten his daughters to talk about it (the storm)," said Bosarge.

Students like Brittany Wasko say they appreciated the opportunity to be there for the students of Bay High. She still speaks fondly of the bonds formed during the trip.

"It was the experience of a lifetime. Not many kids can say they've gotten a chance to do something like this. Just making that student to student connection was very special," said Wasko.

It's a connection, former Bay High student, now college freshman Chloe Harvill also felt during that seven day visit.

"I think it made everyone feel really special. I mean there were a lot of people who didn't understand how bad the storm was. And to have a group of kids who came down who got it. They didn't just understand it was a bad storm, but they wanted to share with people in their community and share with other people through their skills," said Harvill.

Upon completing the documentary, the students returned to Bay St. Louis. Nearly 500 people came out of their FEMA trailers to watch the half-hour documentary and share stories after the viewing. For Tom Wilson, a video production teacher who came down with the students, it was a poignant moment.

"For me that was the most impactful moment for me. I realized that through this medium we teach everyday we truly can have an impact, and that's what it's all about. From there, it's just been relationships we've been able to form and maintain with people even five years later," said Wilson.

Their bonds, former principal Alexander said she's thankful the communities were able to create and maintain.

"The ladies and gentlemen from Hoover High School will always be remembered by those students they worked with and the people in this community. I think they did the whole community a favor in that video," said Alexander.

The student journalists fulfilled their goal in telling the untold stories of Hurricane Katrina's wrath in South Mississippi. They held a premiere for the documentary back in Ohio. The film was also aired on public broadcast channels.

The students were also nominated for a regional Emmy for "Pieces of Paradise."

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