LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) - It was the last step in a project that took seven years to build. City engineers and transportation officials did a final walk through to inspect the newly-finished sidewalk on Commission Road.
The battle to build the concrete pathway didn't start with any government official or community leader. It was actually a group of students that spearheaded the project.
"I'm very amazed," said Long Beach Mayor Billy Skellie.
It all began when the Long Beach High seniors were in the fifth grade at Quarles Elementary School. As part of their "Project Citizen" assignment, the gifted class had to identify a problem in the community. The students decided to target childhood obesity.
"When you are a kid, you think you don't really have a voice. You can't make a change. And when we researched that the biggest problem in Mississippi was obesity, and especially its high rate of obesity, so we tried to come up with a solution," said Long Beach High Senior Jackie Rojas.
Their answer was to encourage students to walk to school by building a sidewalk from Daugherty Road to Alverado Drive. The fifth graders did their own research, including conducting surveys, measuring nearby streets, and meeting with city engineers.
Next, they had to go before city leaders to seek approval, then, apply for grants through the Mississippi Department of Transportation.
"It just kind of shows you exactly what it's all about, about the youth, about what's coming behind you, the things that they're able to accomplish, and the leaders they have in the schools," Mayor Skellie said.
The mayor said the reason the project took so long was because the city was working on an extensive drainage project to relieve flooding in the neighborhood.
"Congratulations to y'all. Government's not fast and again, it's successful, because of you completing it," he told the students.
The students were thrilled to see their project become a reality and how they helped pave the way for change. On Monday, they took a walk along the new sidewalk with their fifth grade teacher Carol Paola.
"Every time we drive by and we see someone walking, my dad always says, 'Hey Liz, you put that sidewalk in'. So it does make me feel really good about it," said Long Beach High Senior Liz Haney. "If I do settle in Long Beach, my kids will be able to use it and I'll be able to say I helped put that sidewalk in place."
"We're all really proud of it. I'm really happy. It looks great, and I'm really happy to see more kids walking to school," said Rojas. "Having the mayor thank us is really exciting, because it's like we did something really good for the better of everybody."
The half-mile sidewalk costs around $340,000. The Gulf Regional Planning Commission pitched-in about $25,000 to finish the project.