One of the most powerful success stories to emerge from the HELP Team’s efforts has been the creation of technology summer camps for students in the affected areas.

Organized by the Pearson Foundation in conjunction with Nokia Inc., these “Digital Arts Summer Camps” have given roughly 500 middle-school students from Plaquemines Parish, New Orleans, and Bay St. Louis, Miss., the chance to learn valuable technology skills while also channeling their creativity.

Working together in small teams, camp participants used the latest in cell-phone and computer technologies to script, shoot, and edit digital films that combined their personal stories and reflections about hurricanes Katrina and Rita with their hopes for the future of their communities. The results are an astonishing group of personal films that chronicle the students’ experiences.

The first camp was held in Plaquemines Parish, an area 10 miles south of New Orleans that was devastated by Katrina. Terry Smithson, educational strategist for Intel Corp. and founding manager of HELP, described the genesis of the summer-camp program: “We went to Plaquemines Parish, and here’s what became painfully obvious: There are no playgrounds; there are no shopping malls; there are no movie theaters; there are no sports complexes; there are no golf courses–I mean, everything is gone. And when you think about all these children, thousands of children across the Gulf Coast who are sitting in 10- by 20-foot [FEMA-issued temporary housing] trailers–they have no outlet for anything to do through the summertime. So Mark Nieker, the president of the Pearson Foundation, came up with the idea of doing the summer digital-arts camps.”

The camps were split into four class periods. The first of these was an English-language period, in which students were asked to write about their Katrina experiences; the second was a digital-arts period, in which students learned to use college-level movie-making software to take the Katrina story written in the first period and make it into a movie.

The last two periods of the summer camps were a physical-education period and an elective period.

How meaningful was the experience for students?

“The students would come up and say [something like], ‘This [movie-making course] was so important to me, because this is my first outlet to be able to share what I think. I can’t talk about this at home. My parents are always fighting; they don’t have any money, because they are waiting for insurance payments; they haven’t gotten anything. We don’t want to bring [our feelings] up, because it’s a burden.’ Those were the kinds of comments we have received,” Smithson said.

In late August, the Pearson Foundation announced that it had reached an agreement with the Smithsonian Institution and the National Geographic Society that will give summer-camp participants a far-reaching audience for their films. The two groups have agreed to show portions of the students’ films through their on-demand networks this fall.

“This will be a great way for the kids to have their work seen nationally,” said Nieker of the Pearson Foundation. He said the foundation is giving a complete archive of the students’ work to local historical societies, too, so the project will have “some lasting impact.”

Program organizers hope to extend the concept into an after-school program, so this kind of work can be done with students throughout the year. Samples of the students’ videos can be viewed at the program’s web site.


Pearson Foundation/Nokia Mobile Learning Institute