Children Learn How To Rebuild Hurricane-Ravaged Communities

"Brodie, here baby. Give it to me," a teacher told a little boy as he carried a plant.

"Oh. It's heavy," the child responded.

Instead of carrying heavy textbooks, and answering tough test questions, hundreds of students are really digging a unique summer school, where gardening is part of the curriculum.

"The kids are not just sitting in front of a book, learning reading, writing, and arithmetic," said Alice Spiers. "They're doing a lot of fun things and they're actually learning at the same time."

"See all that white stuff in there? That's nutrients for your plants," Spiers explained to a student.

Spiers runs the "Walk-About" Summer School at the Center for Alternative Education. It is one of three summer school sites in the Picayune School District.

Spiers works with students, like 12-year-old Brandon Murray. Brandon would rather play basketball. Instead, he's spending this summer, discovering he has a green thumb.

"It's fun," said Brandon Murray. "You do arts and have fun. You do a lot of stuff. It keeps you from doing bad things in the street, and you could learn more things."

"It's exciting," said Mississippi Education Superintendent Dr. Hank Bounds. "Kids are having a good time, and they're learning about service projects."

The class is more than just about keeping kids busy. Teachers hope the children will blossom from hurricane victims into community leaders.

"Many of our students were displaced," Spiers said. "We got a lot of kids that came in from New Orleans. They've learned to go out into their community, and work in their community, and help others in their community."

Besides planting gardens at schools and retirement homes, the students also collect toys, distribute donated books, and put together hurricane-preparedness kits. The National Youth Leadership Council is sponsoring the program, with funding from State Farm.