‘Rethinkers’ turn Katrina tragedy into positive change

By BOBBI BUCHANAN

Take one of the most devastating disasters in American history, add a medley of motivated students, and what do you get?

The Rethinkers. That’s the moniker adopted by a group of students who set out to rethink and rebuild New Orleans schools in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

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To promote better health and learning, as well as a healthier local economy, New Orleans students have proposed that school cafeterias serve fresh, local foods, including vegetables grown by students at the schools. (Courtesy of Colin M. Lenton Photography)

It started in 2006, when community organizers, artists, architects, media experts and educators brought together 20 middle school students for their first summer school. The children had lost their homes and spent six months attending schools in other cities. Through this eye-opening experience, they discovered for the first time school restrooms with toilet paper and soap, libraries with books, and hallways with lockers. The Rethinkers set out to build on this vision of schools for New Orleans—to ensure a great education for every student regardless of race and socioeconomic background.

Some of positive changes brought about by the Rethinkers concern the food served in school cafeterias. As part of “Twelve Recommendations for School Food and Cafeterias,” the Rethinkers have proposed kid-approved meals made with at least one local ingredient (such as shrimp or okra), outdoor vegetable gardens at every school, and compost for those gardens created by schools’ leftover food. Several New Orleans schools have already started serving a local meal once a week.

  • Interested in what they’ve accomplished? Want to start your own movement? Meet some of the Rethinkers’ movers and shakers Sept. 25 at the Healthy Foods, Local Farms Conference in Louisville. Click here to learn more about the conference. Or visit the Rethinkers’ Web site at www.therethinkers.com.

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