Outdoor classroom built by volunteers to be dedicated Sunday

By North Gulfport Community Land Trust

An open house and dedication of a new outdoor environmental classroom constructed by high school students and their supervisors with VISIONS Service Adventures will be held Sunday at 5 p.m. at the 7th and 8th Grade School in North Gulfport at the end of Polk St.

Twenty six high school students from throughout the U.S. have paid their own way to spend a month in North Gulfport working to construct the outdoor environmental center, in addition to other projects such as home repair and construction, neighborhood and Turkey Creek debris removal, and cleaning up an abandoned, historic African American library located at Madison and Texas streets.

“We have been so impressed by the dedication shown by these young people who came to make a difference in a community that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina,” said Rose Johnson, who heads the North Gulfport Community Land Trust. “These students and their staff supervisors have lived in the community for the past month. This organization normally works in foreign countries in the Caribbean and South America. They came to help in Gulfport after having their hearts opened by seeing the massive amounts of destruction the Gulf Coast suffered in Hurricane Katrina.”

VISIONS Service Adventures participants live and work in the community in order to get to know local residents while also doing service projects.

“They get to know that there isn’t much difference between people of different cultures and countries, once you get to know them,” Johnson said. “Around the world people want the same things: Decent homes and schools, and a safe community to live in. It is good to know we have young people who are willing to dedicate their time, giving up their summer vacations, in order to make a positive difference.”

Andy Hollenhorst, director of VISIONS Mississippi program, said their programs reward young people in direct proportion to their efforts while introducing them to another culture in the best way possible: by immersing them in the daily life of their host community.

“Our programs blend hands-on hard work, intercultural living and learning, and adventurous exploration,” Hollenhorst said. “VISIONS challenges every part of you—your mind, your muscles and your heart.”

Johnson said the outdoor environmental classroom located near Turkey Creek will help students better connect to the environment, leading to stronger values for protecting nature. She added that research has shown that hands-on learning activities in outdoor classrooms help students learn better as indicated by higher test scores.