Through tree-planting, trash pickup and much more, students in Shaler Area’s fledgling sustainability class are putting their newly learned skills to good use in their own neighborhood.
Classes are supporting the preservation of Girty’s Woods, a 155-acre parcel in Reserve, Millvale and Shaler that is slated for permanent green space after its purchase by the Allegheny Land Trust.
Students are growing native trees from seed and will plant them to help restore logged areas.
They hosted a trash collection, worked at a drive-thru pasta dinner and sold raffle tickets to raise money for the $723,000 project.
“The goal of the course is for students to promote sustainable action within the larger community,” Science Teacher Abbey Nilson said.
The sustainability course is one of the district’s newest College in High School (CHS) offerings, where students can earn three post-secondary credits.
Offered in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh, there are more than 70 district students in 10th through 12th grade enrolled.
Shaler Area High School is one of only two Pittsburgh-area schools offering the CHS sustainability course.
Work focuses on energy use, consumer choices, food, waste disposal/recycling/composting, water use and transportation – and the overall impact of active and passive decisions.
“Students will complete a series of personal lab challenges that involve analyzing, changing and reflecting about the way they eat, what they buy, how they get around, the energy they use, and the decisions that they make as they relate to sustainability and environmental best practices,” Nilson said.
Her classes have already dove in to hands-on work by visiting Girty’s Woods, picking up litter, taking pictures and designing posters to raise awareness of the project.
“At the trash cleanup, they even sorted out the aluminum they found for recycling,” Nilson said.
This semester, work continues with students creating art projects for an online holiday auction.
The effort is being sponsored by Tupelo Honey Tea in Millvale and Chris Lisowski, an art and STEAM teacher at Shaler Area Middle School.
In just two months, student Anna Sheets already has learned more than she bargained for.
“I’m learning about how to preserve the planet, and I have witnessed how hard work and community service can have a big impact,” Sheets said.
“I have also come to realize issues that I never knew existed, like the flooding in Millvale that can devastate homes due to the unsuitable drainage system. I learned that saving Girty’s Woods would help prevent this flooding and, in turn, would help preserve Millvale.”
Girty’s Woods will play a crucial role in rainwater absorption, given it remains in a natural state and free of development. It also serves as a wildlife refuge and hosts an abundance of native species.
Logging roads will be transformed into community trails and trees will be replanted, giving visitors access to natural recreation and bird-watching.
“This project is very important, as it is within our school district, and these students will be able to enjoy this space and all the environmental benefits of restoring it,” Nilson said.
Student Taylor Rawls credits the new high school course for her learning that Girty’s Woods existed.
“I find it important to preserve this area to teach and allow the future generations to understand the significance of saving land,” Rawls said. “It’s important to take better care of our home and Earth.”
Sheets said the classwork has been an eye-opener to bigger issues in the world and how they can hit home.
“Realizing that it is not just one big issue but small things that exist in our own neighborhoods that everyone can help to contribute to has inspired me to do what I can to help,” Sheets said.
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