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Penn Hills

Penn Hills School District, local charity create outdoor classroom at middle school

Michael DiVittorio
| Wednesday, June 6, 2018, 6:06 p.m.
Linton Middle School students check out their new pond in the library courtyard's outdoor classroom.
Submitted
Linton Middle School students check out their new pond in the library courtyard's outdoor classroom.
BOB Project volunteer Matthew Zuk moves mulch for Linton Middle School's outdoor classroom while BOB Project youth board Pesident Christine Spieler, Linton art teacher Amanda Power, BOB Project Vice President Mindy Bacon, district Athletic Director Stephanie Strauss and district staffers Diane and Fran Coglia look on.
Submitted
BOB Project volunteer Matthew Zuk moves mulch for Linton Middle School's outdoor classroom while BOB Project youth board Pesident Christine Spieler, Linton art teacher Amanda Power, BOB Project Vice President Mindy Bacon, district Athletic Director Stephanie Strauss and district staffers Diane and Fran Coglia look on.
Linton Middle School library courtyard was transformed into an outdoor classroom by the BOB Project and school district staff
Submitted
Linton Middle School library courtyard was transformed into an outdoor classroom by the BOB Project and school district staff
Penn Hills School District staffers Amanda Power, Kristy Bair and Lisa Romah work on the new outdoor classroom at Linton Middle School.
Submitted
Penn Hills School District staffers Amanda Power, Kristy Bair and Lisa Romah work on the new outdoor classroom at Linton Middle School.

The Penn Hills School District and a local nonprofit teamed up to provide a new outdoor classroom for middle schoolers.

Bring Out the Best Project, also known as the BOB Project — based in Penn Hills, helped renovate Linton Middle School's library courtyard. Life skills students had planted flowers in the courtyard in previous years.

Volunteers and staffers applied three truckloads of mulch, installed an above-ground pond and built a pergola, an open pavilion.

District Athletic Director Stephanie Strauss was among the workers moving the mulch.

“I had a lot of fun working with the whole crew,” she said. “The BOB Project has a lot of great volunteers who really care about Penn Hills. They're doing a lot of positive projects trying to make this a better place. (The courtyard) is a place where kids can go outside, read a book, learn how a pond works. It's an educational experience for them. I hope that the kids will help us maintain the area and keep it looking nice for many years to come.”

Most of the work was completed in late May. Crews were adding the finishing touches this month.

“It looks really nice,” said Shawn O'Mahony, BOB Project founder and president. “We're still getting the bog together with lava rocks so it can clean and filter the water. I've been told from some of the teachers that the kids really appreciate a chance to get out and enjoy the fresh air. I think there are a lot of educational opportunities to having this classroom outside, including the sciences, art, writing, everything from mathematics to just a place to relax and meditate.”

The pond is 10 feet long, 6 feet wide and 32 inches deep.

BOB Project Vice President Mindy Bacon donated large goldfish, albino catfish and koi fish for the pond.

Students made a mealworm farm for the crawling fish food.

“It actually went together quite nicely,” O'Mahony said. “We just have to do some trim work. The hard part was getting the mulch wheelbarrowed through the school, in the library and into the courtyard. You can tell there's some pride involved in the courtyard now. ... We're just excited for the children to be able to use it come fall.”

O'Mahony credited Linton art teacher and BOB Project art director Amanda Power with its success.

“I kept bugging Shawn how I thought the courtyard at my school needed improved,” she said. “It needed to be renovated to an outdoor classroom with a peaceful and tranquil area.”

The courtyard also has a memorial bench dedicated to former student Tyron Hill, who was killed Aug. 28, 2007 at age 11, and a memorial clock in honor of former high school Principal Blaine Curran, who died from cancer July 12, 2007 at age 39.

“It just bothered me that we have this beautiful space/resource in the center of the building that had these wonderful tributes to two amazing people and it needed some current (tender loving care),” Power said. “Many people never even noticed the memorial bench sitting there for (a) decade. Now it's a beautiful bench to sit on while hearing the waterfall.”

District Director of Teaching Learning & Assessment Renel Williams said the project cost was approximately $4,200 and funded through a federal grant given to the district to provide an outdoor learning environment.

The BOB Project has worked with district students, alumni and staffers on a variety of initiatives through the years including an upgrade of the high school garden and a mural at Butler Gas Products in Penn Hills last year.

“The Penn Hills School District is very fortunate to have many project supporters within the organization and the extended school community,” Superintendent Nancy Hines said. “It's wonderful to see such a united appreciation of authentic learning experiences that not only address academic standards but, equally important, these opportunities demonstrate vividly to our students how newly acquired knowledge and skills may be applied in the real world.”

Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2367, mdivittorio@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MikeJdiVittorio.

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