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Seneca Valley using $10,000 grant to help students appreciate nature

Cranberry Journal
Seneca Valley Intermediate High School principal Alan Cumo, left, biology teacher Courtney Williams, Monsanto Grant Representative Jeff Phillips, and biology teacher Dana Hadley were all on hand for the check presentation ceremony. Submitted

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By Dona S. Dreeland
Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, 8:54 p.m.

Imagine ... no desks, no chairs, no whiteboards, but plenty of fresh air and sunshine to carry lessons forward.

Thanks to Courtney Williams and Dana Hadley, two Seneca Valley teachers, students will be able to watch Mother Nature work her magic in an outdoor classroom on the Harmony campus.

Via a $10,000 America's Farmers Grow Rural Education Grant from the Monsanto Company, learning will take place near the June Marshall Trail by spring of 2013. A check was presented on Nov. 2.

“I encourage my students to be outside and observe and listen to nature,” said Hadley, who teaches 11th - and 12th-grade biology and horticulture at the senior high school.

“Kids spend so much time indoors these days. We want to share our love of nature and the outdoors and foster that in our students.”

At the intermediate level, Williams, who teaches 9th-grade biology, sees the outdoor seats as a perfect perspective from which to view wild birds at the feeding station.

“Once the area is established, we hope to be able to be part of the Great Backyard Bird Count led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society,” said Williams, who collaborated with Hadley on the application and the area's design.

Both women will help to maintain the space.

“I live in Zelienople about five minutes away from the school,” she said.

Hadley had noticed Seneca Valley was in the running for the contest on Monsanto's website. In May, the women filled out a lengthy grant application, and by the end of August, the district was named a winner. Annette and Michael Schiever, of the Schiever Dairy Farm in Harmony, had placed the district's name on the eligibility list.

Ultimately, Seneca Valley was among the 176 school districts in 35 states that received grants of up to $25,000 in a program that began last year.

Both teachers had considered the need for an outdoor classroom long before the contest. With the nearly 130 acres of various habitats, Hadley, who lives near Prospect, explained, they knew the area would draw a diverse selection of wildlife.

“Students and teachers will benefit for years to come and that was a major goal,” Hadley said.

“If we had decided to purchase technology or equipment, it would be antiquated in the near future, and we thought that was not a good use of the money.”

With the funds already in the district's account, the teachers are hoping to engage local businesses to assist the project through materials pricing. And they'll depend on the high school technology education department to build the benches, a storage shed and the signage.

Of course, there will be room for volunteers to help with construction. Members of Hadley's horticultural classes also will have the opportunity for some first-hand– albeit dirty – experience with topics studied in class.

Near the space, Hadley explained, there is a stream where students can collect samples and perform chemical analyses in a perfect outdoor lab.

While the space will be ideal for ecology and environmental studies, it also will lend itself to other disciplines.

“The opportunity is there for all curricular areas to decide how they best can use it,” said Hadley.

“I see art classes sketching, math classes counting and analyzing species, English classes being inspired by the outdoors for creative writing …. The list is endless.”

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or

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