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Garden project earns Shaler Area teacher national honor

| Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, 1:00 p.m.
Darla Gerlach was one of three merit prize winners in the National Civics Education Contest.

Shaler Area Middle School teacher Darla Gerlach was one of six educators recognized in the National Civics Education Contest at the National Council for the Social Studies conference last month.

The National Civics Education Contest is sponsored by Pearson, a publishing and education company, and WeAreTeachers, an online professional development resource, and honors classroom teachers for civics projects, ideas and activities.

Gerlach's project “Planting a Connection with Your Community” tasks students with researching indigenous plants and trees and developing historical gardens.

Many of the projects have transformed the campuses of the Shaler Area school buildings with gardens.

The contest officials recognized Gerlach's project by awarding her one of three merit prize awards, which also brought with it technological and educational resources.

“I was happy to incorporate this program with my education,” Gerlach said. “It's a good way for students to ... establish short and long-term goals for themselves, and add to the aesthetics of the community.”

Gerlach started the project more than 10 years ago when she was a social studies teacher at the middle school, then located at Scott Avenue, and moved the project with her to the Gifted and Talented Education program when she became a teacher in the GATE department at the middle school on Mount Royal Boulevard.

Each year students add to the gardens.

About 100 middle school students are involved in the project this year that will focus on the court yard area between the middle school and the Titan stadium.

“We're trying to focus on that area back there as well and maybe create an outdoor learning area for students,” Gerlach said.

The students conduct their research and designs during the fall and winter and by spring they are working in the garden. Gerlach said the gardens feature trees, daylilies and rhododendron. Many students even donate plants from their home gardens.

“It's a personal connection to the garden here at school,” Gerlach said. “Growing up in the area, it's a close knit community and a lot of people take pride in their roots, and it's a metaphor. (The garden) perpetuates the heritage.”

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or bhofstetter@tribweb.com.

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