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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Crestwood High School, Mountain Top, Pennsylvania, USA

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Crestwood High School, Mountain Top, Pennsylvania, USA
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Registered: December 2010
City/Town/Province: Wapwallopen
Posts: 1
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On Saturday, October 16, 2010 ground was broken at Crestwood High School in Mountain Top, Pennsylvania—literally. As part of my senior graduation project, a Pennsylvania state requirement, I decided to transform the courtyard between the first and second halls of Crestwood High School into an outdoor classroom.

This school habitat project was the creation of a natural environment for local birds and insects, as well as a tool to introduce to students the value of conservation and the importance of how an ecosystem makes a huge impact on wildlife, regardless of its size. The underlying goal of the project was to provide an alternative to an indoor classroom, primarily for science and art students. This was achieved, and still has room to grow in more ways than one. Other students or teachers can add to the project in the future, further benefiting future Crestwood students.

As an evaluation of the overall project, it was an ultimate success on many different levels. Support for the project spanned from the Crestwood High School administration, maintenance staff and teachers, and it became a united effort throughout the various teaching departments in the school. There was also enthusiastic support from the public officials and local businesses of Mountain Top and surrounding areas. The project was intended to bring the community together, combining the skills and products of everyone within Mountain Top.

During the planning stages of the project, I researched what plants would be best to use in the conditions provided in the vacant courtyard. I wanted to select plants native to Pennsylvania in order to reduce the amount of maintenance needed and increase the rate of survival of the plants. Native plants are previously accustomed to the environment and climate of their area, and therefore require less fertilization, watering, and care. I was also looking for plants that would readily spread across the ground or grow full in size, preventing weeds from growing and attract more birds and insects.

The conditions the plants had to survive in were the following: roughly six hours of direct sunlight, an average of 42-44 inches of precipitation a year, and the ability to extract nutrients from the soil already present in the courtyard. The final requirement for the plants was they somehow had to provide food, cover, and a place for the native Northeast Pennsylvania insects and birds to raise their young. My research indicated that bee balm, black-eyed Susan, purple cone-flower, ninebark, and blueberry plants all fit under all of the categories, and after self-establishment, would successfully survive.

The project was introduced to Principal Chris Gegaris as a Schoolyard Habitat Project, a project that would benefit local insects and birds with food, water, cover, and places to raise their young, essentials for wildlife to survive. I explained that the project was designed to utilize plants native to Pennsylvania. The use of native plants was crucial: the plants are accustomed to the climate and conditions of Pennsylvania, which means they would require less maintenance than a non-native plant.

The habitat’s food would be provided naturally by the plants used, through seeds, fruit, pollen, and nectar. The water would be provided through a pre-formed pond, which required a pump to prevent the water from becoming stagnant and a health hazard.

Cover, or places for wildlife to hide from predators, would also be provided through the plants. Blueberry and ninebark plants grow to be full and bushy, adding to the already present cover provided by the trees already in the courtyard. Bee balm, black-eyed Susan, and day lilies spread aggressively, so as time progresses there would be more cover for birds and insects to use. Places to raise young are provided through the blueberry and ninebark plants, as well as bird houses to be built by other students wanting to contribute to the project.

Once the project was given an enthusiastic green flag, sources for the supplies and materials needed for the project had to be found. I was given the contact information for the educational representative from the Pennsylvania Game Commission, and I completed the application for the Wild Action Grant, worth $1,000 if approved (I have yet to learn if the grant has been approved for the project). After sending information about the project to the Game Commission, I visited many of the nurseries and businesses in Mountain Top and the surrounding areas to see if they would be willing to donate or contribute to the project. There was a very optimistic response from many of them.

Dundee Gardens of Nanticoke agreed to donate five (5) potted bunches of day lilies. Old Post Farms of Dorrance donated twenty (20) potted black-eyed Susan. George Burger and Sons Garden Center of Mountain Top provided a total of eight (8) potted plants, a combination of bee balm, ninebark, blueberry, and purple coneflower. Keiner’s Nursery of Slocum contributed twenty-two (22) ninebark plants, thirteen (13) blueberry bushes, and a total of 240 starter plants of bee balm, purple coneflower, and black-eyed Susan. This total of 308 plants would be the starting point of the Crestwood Habitat Project.

Since the habitat required a water source, I approached the owners of P&D Pet Supply of Mountain Top, Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Friedman. They agreed to provide both the pre-formed pond and 2-in-1 pump/filter at a discounted price for the project. The Crestwood Education Association, the teachers’ union of Crestwood High School, agreed to pay for both items.

In order to protect the plants from the upcoming winter, fertilize the roots and be a natural weed barrier, there needed to be a layer of protection. I attended a Wright Township Council supervisors’ meeting to ask if the supervisors would vote to donate roughly 2,100 cubic feet of compost material from the township’s public composting site for the project. They agreed to donate the compost, but I had to secure a transportation method to move the compost from the processing site to the high school, an approximate two-mile distance. After contacting Norbert Dotzel, owner of Dotzel’s Trucking Company, Mr. Dotzel agreed to donate his time and use of one of his dump trucks to transport the compost on the designated planting day. He also offered to arrange the logistics to meet with the supervisor at the composting center to obtain access to the compost.

A request I made to the high school science teachers was to conduct a presentation to their classes to recruit students to help me with the project. Most of the science teachers offered incentive to their students by giving extra credit to any student volunteer. Volunteering for the project also qualified as community service, a requirement to be inducted into the National Honor Society, and I would be providing pizza and drinks for their efforts. Fifty student volunteers signed a roster sheet and waiver form and agreed to assist on Planting Day.

It was finally Saturday, October 16, and Planting Day was underway. A mountain of compost awaited outside the school. Potted plants had been laid out on the ground, an array of shovels, rakes, and hoes lined a wall like soldiers before battle, and three wheelbarrows sat in idle, waiting to be put to use.

The student volunteers, several adult volunteers, and two science teachers arrived at approximately 10:00 a.m., the designated start time. Within a half hour, all of the plants had holes dug and were ready to be transplanted. A wheelbarrow system was established, and once compost was distributed to each of the plants, the compost appeared in mounds across the ground. It was spread across the ground, and the appearance of garden beds began to form.

By 2:00 p.m., all of the plants and pond were in the ground, and the beds began to take shape. A pile of mulch still was outside the school, but an obvious dent was made in it. Two weeks later the rest of the mulch was laid on the ground, and for the season, the Crestwood Habitat was complete as planned.

But this is only the beginning. Over the winter, students will be making bird feeders to provide a winter source of food for birds, and prospective students may be trying their hand at making suet cakes in home and consumer science classes. When the project is fully completed, I plan on having the habitat certified by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) as a legitimate Schoolyard Habitat.

A grassy area vacant of any plants or compost will have benches made by students, and the habitat will be ready to be used as an outdoor classroom in the spring of 2011. By summer, the habitat will be at its full bloom and color, providing food, water, cover, and places for insects and birds to raise their young. The cycle is designed to be perpetual and self-sustaining. Each successive year the habitat will be fuller and thriving more than the previous year.

On Saturday, October 16, ground was broken, at Crestwood High School, literally, never to be the same again. I have not been the same since then, either. I have the feeling that I have made an impact on countless people, including students, teachers, and the businesses and community of Mountain Top, Pennsylvania, along with the local wildlife of the area that can access the habitat itself. Together, we created a brand new ecosystem for the local birds and insects, as well as becoming a teaching tool for the students at Crestwood, which can expand and grow along with them. I think knowing I would be possibly changing people’s lives, even in the slightest, was what drove me to complete the project. The reality of the whole project is that it wasn’t about me: it was about the school, local, and environmental communities.

And to me, that feeling is the greatest in the world.
Date: December 26, 2010 Views: 9029 File size: 41.6kb, 850.4kb : 2592 x 1944
Hours Volunteered: 300
Volunteers: 50
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 17 & 15 to 19
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