I spent part of an afternoon in June with some students from City High who signed up to become High School Urban EcoStewards (you can read about their program here).
Since 2003, the Urban EcoStewards Program has provided parks across Pittsburgh with a large group of long-term volunteers to care for sections of green space while working to improve their natural value. In spring 2010, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy launched an effort with the students of City High and the Student Conservation Association to create High School Urban EcoStewards through a grant from Heinz Youth Philanthropy.
This spring, 20 students from City High’s 10th grade class cared for a section of parkland by Panther Hollow Lake in Schenley Park. The students performed the same tasks as other Urban EcoStewards, such as removing invasive plants, planting native plants, and controlling erosion. Students paired their monthly site visits with science-journaling, which builds observation and recording skills. The program fulfills City High’s 10th grade service learning requirement, and the students are able to spend three hours a month on a Friday afternoon in the park.
16-year-old Graham Evans said, “We’ve learned how to identify many different plant species and maintain an environment. It feels like an adventure!”
The students learned to identify invasive species like tree of heaven by its rotten-peanut butter aroma. (I’m not kidding – it really smells like that.) It was hilarious to watch these students discover the joys of popping the native jewelweed. They quickly became addicts, searching the Schenley Park trails for new buds to pop.
In case you have no clue what I’m talking about, this is jewelweed. The green coils behind the flowers aren’t always easy to see, but if you lightly squeeze them in your hands, they make a very satisfying pop. It is addicting!
Thanks to a new $50,000 grant from the Grable Foundation, the program will continue. The High School Urban EcoSteward program will expand to other schools next year, including the SciTech Academy, the Ellis School, and the Homewood YMCA Lighthouse program. “Environmental restoration can happen at any age, and connecting young people with these activities is part of the ultimate vision for the Environmental Center at Frick Park,” said Marijke Hecht, Director of Education for the Parks Conservancy.
The Urban EcoSteward program is part of the work of the Urban Ecology Collaborative of Pittsburgh. This is the local branch of an eight-city effort with a mission to cultivate healthy, safe and vibrant cities through collective learning and united action. In Pittsburgh, EcoStewards work under the supervision of staff from the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association, the Frick Environmental Center, or the Mount Washington Community Development Corporation.
In July the City High EcoStewards got together in Schenley Park to make final presentations about the work they had completed throughout the semester. See photos from the wrapup presentation here (thanks to John Altdorfer for the photos!).
Below are some videos from the participants.