By Monique Harrison
Mooreville High School eighth-grader Matthew Lott developed a personal mission soon after learning that his gifted class would be participating in a project designed to teach students about state cultures.
"I wanted people in other states to learn that Mississippi isn't just made up of a bunch of hicks," Lott said, grinning. "Most people don't really know that much about the state. They just have these ideas about how we are supposed to be."
To help drive that point home, Lott and other students in the class e-mailed schools across the country, sharing Mississippi traditions and recipes.
The other schools in turn e-mailed information about their own states to Mooreville.
"I wanted students to learn that although all 50 states are within the same country, there are a significant number of cultural differences," said Adelia Whitman, who teaches the class of seventh- and eighth-graders. "This project seemed like a good way to help students understand that. And it got them thinking about their own cultural experiences."
Whitman learned about the 50 States Quilt Project from a Vancouver, Canada, librarian, who e-mailed her about the project. The librarian said she designed the project in an effort to give her students an opportunity to learn about regional cultures from other youngsters.
Segments of project
The project is designed to take students about four months and is divided into several phases.
Last October, students began sending e-mail messages introducing their class and sharing information about themselves.
In January, students were asked to send e-mail messages containing recipes that are unique to the state or use products grown in the state.
In February, students designed and mailed 49 quilt blocks to other states. The eight-inch square blocks were required to feature a product or activity unique to the student's home region.
When students receive quilt squares from other states, they plan to piece them together and make a class quilt to commemorate the project and educate other students at the school.
Mooreville students designed a quilt square featuring a hand-painted magnolia.
"They liked the idea because it is the state flower," Whitman said. "And they liked it because it was fairly easy to do, without too many elaborate details. Of course, by the time it was all over, they were really sick of all that painting. I don't think any of them will want to paint again any time soon."
Sharing Gumtree Festival
Youngsters shared a number of local traditions in their e-mails to other schools. One of the most popular topics was the Gumtree Festival.
"I wrote about the Gumtree because I've run in the 10K before," said Elizabeth Medlin, 13. "I just know a lot about it, really. I thought it was interesting so maybe people in other states will think it's interesting."
The Gumtree festival, named for the tupelo gum tree from which the city takes its name, is held annually on Mother's Day weekend.
Oleput - another summertime Tupelo festival mainstay - was also chronicled by several students. Oleput is a Mardi Gras-style festival that was named by spelling Tupelo backwards.
"We wanted people to see that we have a lot of festivals around here," said Nicholas Slay, 13. "This isn't just a quiet little state."
Students also swapped several recipes with other U.S. students. Some of the most popular included pecan pie and fried okra.
After exchanging recipes, Mooreville students had a tasting party, with students preparing the recipes they received at home and then bringing them to school for classmates to sample.
"Most of it's pretty good," said Brian Cayson, 13, as he chomped on a mouthful of Nebraska trail mix. "We learned that a lot of states out West ate a lot of foods with corn. Different places in the country do different things."