Education

Nittany Valley Charter students help boost ecosystem on farmland

Holden McKalips, 6, hangs a Popsicle stick bird feeder on a tree branch as he classmates look for more spots for other feeders. The Nittany Valley Charter School spends one day a month at Carolyn Maroncelli’s farm to work on environmental projects.
Holden McKalips, 6, hangs a Popsicle stick bird feeder on a tree branch as he classmates look for more spots for other feeders. The Nittany Valley Charter School spends one day a month at Carolyn Maroncelli’s farm to work on environmental projects. adrey@centredaily.com

A former tree farm in northern Huntingdon County is being brought back to life with the help of students from a State College-based charter school.

Forty-eight Nittany Valley Charter School students in kindergarten through eighth grade are working on a schoolwide project called “Helping our Earth Field Project.”

They’ll be honored for their work on April 25 in Harrisburg with the 2017 Environmental Excellence Award from the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council.

“It’s really exciting,” school CEO Kara Martin said.

According to a report from the DEP, students are applying “in-class and in-field instruction” to develop and implement a stewardship plan that promotes carbon sequestration through native landscape and wildlife habitat.

The school’s founder Carolyn Maroncelli purchased the farm a few years ago and vowed to use the land for environmental education.

That was turned into a reality this school year.

Martin said teachers met with forester Bill Bow from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resource, and biologist Clayton Lutz from the Pennsylvania Game Commission to identify flora, fauna and wildlife on the farm.

“They looked at what was a tree farm, but what now has a lot of non-native and invasive plants, and some (Scotch pine trees), which are no longer growing anymore,” Martin said.

The land also has two ponds, a forest area and a field.

Martin said younger students identified wildlife and learned about different ecosystems, while the older kids used geographic positioning systems to help make a digital map of the property.

They also categorized plants and pinpointed which are native, invasive or non-native.

On Thursday, students delivered some goods to the land located on Peachey Road, including bird feeders, bat boxes and butterfly houses that they placed in trees and around the property.

They also helpedinstal steps near the pond and cleared a path for a trail.

“I like coming here and helping,” Kailyn Gill, 10, said. “It’s much better being outside doing things than in the classroom.”

Martin said part of the idea is also to encourage students to be interactive.

And for some students, the best part of the project is getting their hands dirty.

“My family always says, ‘If you don’t get dirty, you don’t have fun’,” said Timmy Becker, 8, who helped build a foundation under a step near the pond.

Martin said teachers and the student body visit the property once a month to help remove dead Scotch pine trees and plant new trees native to the area that could help create habitats for animals.

“It’s an ongoing project that went from a one-year project to a two-year project,” Martin said. “I think their hard work will pay off when they see the progress they’ve made.”

Britney Milazzo: 814-231-4648, @M11azzo. Photographer Abby Drey contributed to this article

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