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Norwin benefits from state environmental grant

Tony LaRussa
| Wednesday, May 14, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Ann Grimes Essay admits that during the five years she served as a life skills teacher at Norwin's Hillcrest Elementary, she got a little spoiled having a garden at the school.

“We sold what we grew to staff members, created recipes in the classroom or just let the kids take some home to their families,” Essay said. “So when I came to the high school this year to be the life skills teacher, the garden was something I really missed.”

By the end of the summer, Essay and the developmentally disabled students in her class will have a working garden at the high school.

“I'm really excited about having a great way to teach students a useful skill like gardening,” Essay said.

“The garden is also a way to teach my students some basic science and math skills.”

Norwin is among 111 recipients across the state that will get a share of the $309,626 in environmental education grants recently announced by Gov. Tom Corbett.

The Environmental Education and Stewardship Grants, which were established in 1993, are funded by fines and penalties the state Department of Environmental Protection collects from polluters, according to the governor's office. The DEP earmarks 5 percent of the money it collects for the grant program.

In addition to the $2,953 Norwin received, organizations that got grants in Westmoreland County were Latrobe City School District, $2,391; Westmoreland County Conservation District, $3,000; and St. Vincent College, $3,000.

Timothy J. Kotch Sr., the principal of Norwin High School, said the grant will allow the district to provide a valuable experience for life skills students.

“This generous grant affords our life skills students the opportunity to participate in a real-life STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) learning experience,” he said. “Gardening is an excellent hands-on activity that is rewarding and tangible for students.

“Students will develop their skills of patience and nurturing while applying their math, science, problem-solving and design skills learned in the classroom,” Kotch said. ”I hope this life-long learning activity develops into a hobby for all students beyond high school.”

Essay, who worked 18 years as a life skills teacher for the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit before coming to Norwin, said the key feature of the garden that will be built in a courtyard behind the high school is that it will be accessible to people with physical disabilities.

“I didn't have any previous experience writing grants, but I knew what I wanted to do because I had developed the garden at Hillcrest,” Essay said. “In addition to four regular raised beds, it will have two ‘tabletop' garden beds that are easy to use by someone in a wheelchair.”

Brian Carlton, a learning support teacher at the high school, has volunteered to uses his cement finishing skills to construct the ramps leading from the building to the garden, Essay said.

The garden also will have four mulched circles to grow fruit trees and shrubs. Plants to grow flowers in the garden were donated by the Guffey family, the owners of Johnston the Florist shop in North Huntingdon, Essay said.

Work on the project is expected to begin in July and use summer school students and parents who have volunteered to help.

A number of vegetable plants, herbs and flowers have already been planted in containers and will be transplanted into the garden beds when they are completed, she said.

“It'll be a short growing season this year, but we should have enough so we can have seeds for next year's garden,” Essay said.

Tony LaRussa is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-856-7400, ext. 8626 or at

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