Penn State, Bellefonte partnership to turn teacher’s vision into reality

Students in two courses at Penn State could have the chance to make a difference in a Centre County community.

Through a partnership Bellefonte Area High School established with the university, Penn State students will help create a master plan for a 2- to 3-acre plot of land behind the high school, Bellefonte agriculture teacher Myken Poorman said.

The idea is to develop that land for educational and community use by retrofitting a farmhouse and garden, and implementing sustainable designs.

The Penn State students plan to work with Bellefonte Area students to find a model for growth, develop a master plan and create best practices for implementation.

Last year, Poorman met with members of the university’s Suitability Institute, who agreed to take on the challenge.

The program will work with two classes: synthesis and architecture design, and a horticulture class.

“We thought this would not only give Penn State students an opportunity to grow and learn and put their skills to use, but also help educate our students,” Poorman said.

The mission of synthesis and architecture design is to promote harmony with the natural world with ideas for designing with nature, Poorman said.

This semester, the students will consider how to design with nature in the 21st century, and meet standards for public work spaces.

The horticulture class is responsible for handling garden space. Students will be asked to provide ideas and images by the end of the semester.

“The cross-cultivation of ideas (among Penn State and Bellefonte area students) was so amazing to listen to, and the degree of maturity and seriousness that everyone was taking this as they were explaining their concepts and transferring those ideas and having those conversations going back and forth was a phenomenal learning experience for everybody,” Superintendent Michelle Saylor said.

Program Coordinator Ilona Ballreich said the mission of the Sustainable Communities Collaborative is to connect faculty, students and staff with local communities to address sustainability challenges through an engaged and collaborative effort.

“We like to apply student expertise, and in return give expertise to students — an experience within the community (and) within the real world that they’re going to enter once they graduate,” she said.

The partner classes are senior capstone and graduate courses and tend to get a “high-quality project and product,” Ballreich said.

Under the partnership, a contract-like agreement has been set that includes faculty and community partners to set expectations, and then contact the community partner for updates.

“It’s a two-way endeavor, but we are not trying to take professional work from professional people,” Ballreich said. “We’re not trying to diminish what your business community wants to and can deliver to you, but we want to increase capacity.”

The project is in the infancy stages, but ground could break this spring on a garden with funding from a $3,000 grant from the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Britney Milazzo: 814-231-4648, @M11azzo