Learn, serve program builds community

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 31, 2000

From Winnie Kaiser’s point of view, it’s not such a big leap from the old horse barns at Liberty Park to the new billion-dollar Nissan plant planned for Madison County.

It’s just a matter of building a community, one student at a time.

And the latest tool in that process is a new service learning program being implemented at Natchez High School.

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The Natchez-Adams County Learn and Serve Lighthouse Partnership operates on a simple concept: combine community service with academic education to develop a sense of purpose and citizenship in students.

&uot;If they realize they can help their community … then they won’t have to leave the community and go find another job,&uot; said Kaiser, who works with the Natchez-Adams County Economic Development Authority.

The local partnership — which includes the Natchez-Adams School District, Copiah-Lincoln Community College, Natchez Campus, the Chamber of Commerce’s Education Committee and the Schools-to-Careers program — received one of only five grants awarded statewide to community-based service learning programs this year.

The three-year grant includes a stipend of $35,500 each year, and provides for a director who will work from an office at Natchez High.

Targeting ninth through 12th-grade students, the program aims to involve 160 students from all achievement levels — one-third high achievers, one-third at-risk, one-third middle-of-the-road students — in a four-day, after-school program. The first 90-minutes of each session will focus on academics, with teachers and volunteers helping tutor students.

The second 90 minutes of each session will focus on service.

&uot;You can’t just have money, hire a program director and go sing songs at a nursing home,&uot; Kaiser said. &uot;You have to sit down and teach them about service learning.&uot;

And, more important, you have to give the students the responsibility that comes with service.

The first 30 or so members in the program conducted their first service project — providing free fingerprinting and ID&160;cards for young children — on Saturday as part of Make a Difference Day.

During the first year of the program, students will plant a community garden on the site of the old horse barns at Liberty Park. Produce grown in the garden will be donated to local charities and service organizations, such as the Stewpot.

Also in this year, the students will research and plant landscaping as the first step in creating and outdoor classroom/break area on the campus.

&uot;Right now, they don’t have any place they can gather that is protected from rain,&uot; Kaiser said.

Next year, the students will build the outdoor classroom. And, in the third year, they will develop and manage and campus-wide recycling program.

All along, Kaiser and program director Randy&160;Laird expect the students will develop two things:&160;a sense of self-esteem and pride in what they do and, most important, a desire to continue to give back to their community, in whatever capacity they can.

&uot;This program needs to be driven by the students,&uot; Laird said. &uot;They are generally filled with enthusiasm and passion, and they can solve problems in ways that adults never thought of.&uot;

By building the community one child at a time, Kaiser sees the Lighthouse partnership, the Schools-to-Career program and similar programs as building the foundation for economic development.

Now, if the partnership participants could just add constructing a four-lane highway into Natchez as part of their community service …

Stacy Graning is editor of The Democrat. She can be reached at 445-3539 or via e-mail at stacy.graning@natchezdemocrat.com.