Wexford Elementary earns Green Ribbon Award |
North Hills

Wexford Elementary earns Green Ribbon Award

Karen Price

Wexford Elementary School teachers Tara Hillegas and Joanna Firman walked through the school’s vegetable garden and pointed out a cucumber ready to be picked to students Leah Timmons, 8, and Nyejah Ressler and Tyler Coyne, both 7.

“They kind of hide in here,” said Hillegas, a special education teacher, as the students began turning over leaves to find the treasures underneath.

The courtyard garden at Wexford Elementary is in all its late summer glory, with bushels of ripe tomatoes and peppers waiting to be picked while vines full of cucumbers and different squash spread across the ground and even climb up the shrubs. The students will donate what they collect to local food banks and organizations to help feed those in need.

It’s just one of the projects that helped earn the school a U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Award in May, and on Sept. 19, a contingent of teachers, administrators and staff will travel to Washington, D.C., to accept the award and interact with members of other schools.

“It’s across the United States, and what’s exciting is they’re teaching us how to sustain what we’re already doing,” principal Kelly Gustafson said. “It’s pretty exciting to be able to share our story and then bring other ideas back to our own community.”

A total of 58 schools, 46 of them pre-kindergarten through 12th grade and 40 of them public schools, were honored nationwide. Mt. Lebanon High School was the only other Pennsylvania school given the award.

In addition to the energy and water conservation programs practiced district-wide, Wexford was also recognized for its cafeteria recycling program, initiated by a second-grade student, that has resulted in a significant increase in recycling.

For the garden, not only do the students help plant and maintain the vegetables and beds, but the gardens are incorporated into STEAM and health curricula.

Once they started donating what they grew to organizations, including Central Baptist Church, an unintended lesson developed from the project.

“We started graphing how much we’ve given to food banks and local nonprofits who are trying to feed the hungry and we started realizing we’re harvesting 11 pounds of tomatoes and 10 gallons of salad in a week,” said Firman, who teaches first grade. “The kids started realizing they were having a real impact on the community, so it wasn’t just fun for them, they were also helping out.”

Coyne was one of the students who helped move dirt to fill the raised beds and collected leaves for composting.

“I like gardening,” he said.

Ressler volunteered to come in over the summer and helped with picking the vegetables.

“I enjoy picking,” he said. “I did that mostly. I picked green beans, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and some lettuce.”

Timmons said her favorite part of growing vegetables was eating them, but she also liked knowing what they’re growing at schools is being donated to the food bank and helping others.

“In Pittsburgh, there are a lot of poor people,” she said.

Added Firman, “They’re getting an awareness that not everybody is as fortunate as we are.”

The school started with just two raised beds two years ago, built by custodian Jerry Glevicky, then added two more. They hope to add even more for next planting season.

Already this year, they’ve donated 51 pounds of tomatoes, 12 pounds of peppers, 12 pounds of beans, 39 pounds of squash and 76 gallons of lettuce.

“Our students are engaged in a way of life,” Gustafson said. “This isn’t a one-and-done where we’ll do this this year and move on. They’ll take this, take it home to their families and share it with their families and friends outside of the community. That’s the key. That’s education at its finest.”

Karen Price is a Tribune-Review contributor.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.