Gulfport students receive unique experience with cemetery project

Gulfport students receive unique experience with cemetery project
The students are mapping the cemetery by hand because a tree canopy prevents the use of modern GPS devices. (Photo source: WLOX News)
The students are mapping the cemetery by hand because a tree canopy prevents the use of modern GPS devices. (Photo source: WLOX News)

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - A historic cemetery is providing a unique set of educational opportunities to Gulfport High School students.

The students are helping document hundreds of graves, and creating a professional map of the Mississippi City cemetery.

"The blue line is the extent of the cemetery, that's all the data we've collected," said Scott Pfaff, the geographic information system teacher at GHS.

The project is a work in progress. History and GIS mapping students are carefully measuring and plotting the burial ground. The students are working with the Gulfport Historical Society to help document the who is buried at the cemetery, and where they are located.

"What our hope is, more than just surveying, is to document the people that are in there and pay homage to them," said Betty Shaw.

Along with helping create a professional map, the students are discovering the roots of the community.

"As we learn more about these people, everyone who's been buried here, we're doing our best to make sure everybody else who comes here knows about them," said student Kijana Roberts, who serves as a photographer for the group.

Amid the faded stones are clues about this once thriving community called Mississippi City.

"How long did people live; were there periods of time when more people died and did that match up with disease outbreaks or wars," said Pfaff.

Most of the mapping work is done the old fashioned way, with measuring tapes and marking line. The tree canopy hinders the use of more modern GPS devices.

"You have to plot each grave from the "X" and "Y" axis and take that data down, which we all did," said Andrew Parker.

Knowing they are helping the community adds to the sense of accomplishment.

"It's a real world project with real world questions for them to solve. So it gave us a great opportunity to team up with the local historical society," said history teacher Reynolds Bodenhamer.

The students are nearly finished mapping and documenting the first section of cemetery. Future classes will carry on the project.

There are some 880 graves in the Mississippi City Cemetery, dating back to the early 1840's.

Along with GHS, a group from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College is also assisting with the project.

Copyright 2016 WLOX. All rights reserved.