MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The students at New Hope Christian have a different view of the six acres surrounding their school. What's now an urban forest a few months ago looked like a dump site.
"All of the trash in our surrounding neighborhood flows across our forest property," Mary Leslie Ramsey said.
Ms. Ramsey thought litter bugs were the problem; turns out the property has an overland storm drain that pushed trash on to the property.
"I hated the idea of all always having trash in the forest."
With the help of volunteers from across the city, including Serve901 and Clean Memphis, the students cleared out the drains that paved the way for the mighty "Mini-ssippi" river project.
"This is the first time I've ever seen something so creative put into life," student Tiffany Reed said.
The students have built bridges inspired by the Hernando de Soto and the Memphis-Arkansas bridges. They researched the river and learned what lives in it and how lives were saved by it.
"We did some field trips down to the river, took a ride on the riverboat, went to Mud Island, went to Slave Haven," Ramsey said.
New Hope has 431 students from pre-K to sixth grade. The sixth-graders worked on different facets of the river project.
"I did the signs that you'll see and I also created the website," Tiffany said.
The students wrote reports on all of the things they learned about the river, and they then recorded what they learned. The information students compiled can be accessed with an iPhone using QR codes.
"It's Mark Twain, it's the Underground Railroad, it's music that the river has inspired," Ramsey said.
"I'm really excited for what other people in Memphis and Frayser how they're going to see the impact that New Hope brought with this," student Christian Arocho said.
The students learned about the five major cities that sit on the Mississippi river. The Mini-ssippi features landmarks like the St. Louis arch.
"We have city scapes that are built to scale," Ramsey said.
"We've put a lot of work into this all year and I love to see how it paid off," student Kendall Davis said.
Ms. Ramsey says many children in Memphis don't know the value of the river to the city, but that's changing thanks to the Mini-ssippi project.
"It has so many hidden gems in it, and so it's so amazing that we live here."
Not only did the students learn to appreciate the river, but they also learned what needs to be done to protect one of our most valuable assets.