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Gordon Hoodak, Principal of Lauer's Park Elementary School in Reading since the early 1980s, taught there for five years before taking the reins of the notoriously low-performing inner-city institution. Since then, Lauer's Park has flourished under his leadership to become perhaps the only so-called "90/90/90" school in Pennsylvania: that is, one whose indices of non-white enrollment, low-income students, and success on standardized achievement tests all exceed ninety percent. A garden project he launched there in the late 1990s with help from Kutztown University and myriad local supporters has grown to be a key asset in the school's inspiring curricular and cultural renaissance.
Nick Hemmerich's talents as a designer and builder of gardens and museum-quality interactive realia displays have flowered at Lauer's Park for more than six years. His projects at the school include hydroponic, native plant, food, butterfly, and meditative landscape gardens as well as one attuned to state curricular standards for science instruction. He has installed three green-roof outdoor classrooms at the inner-city school and tends active beehives, one of them inside the computer lab classroom (glassed-in, with a sealed bee passage to the outside). As Advisor to the school's business club, Mr. Hemmerich has facilitated successful student-driven fundraising initiatives that leverage resources and skills produced in the Lauer's Park gardens.
Chip Clark is a "parent emeritus" and a member of the gardening teams at Radio Park Elementary School in State College and Gray's Woods Elementary in Port Matilda, PA. Chip enjoys garden planning and construction, teaching, grant writing, and incorporating many different elements into the garden to make it as interesting as possible for the students. When not gardening or thinking about gardening, Chip works for ITT Exelis as an analyst and project manager. He holds a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and an MS in Aerospace Engineering from Penn State University.
Celeste Newcomb is the garden coordinator for Gray's Woods Elementary School and Parent Teacher Organization in State College, PA. With the help of many, Gray's Woods launched their new garden this past year. Celeste enjoys teaching children about composting and organic gardening. She also enjoys figuring out how to get funding and support for the gardening efforts. In addition to her garden activities, Celeste works for Penn State as an Instructor in the Health Policy Administration Department. She holds an MBA from Johns Hopkins.
Mrs. Kay Fritz teaches third grade at Kutztown Elementary School: Several years ago I read a book by Richard Louv called, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder. This book was an inspiration to me and as a result I decided to research and write my Master’s proposal in 2009 on the topic of placed-based education. As part of my proposal, I developed a curriculum to use with my third grade students, which incorporated cross-curricular, outdoor lessons along the Sacony Creek Trail, which runs behind our elementary school. It was the perfect backdrop for a place-based program.
In 2011, I was selected to participate in TTEC (Trails to Every Classroom), a professional development program sponsored by the National Park Service and the Nature Conservancy. I spent a week in the summer at the National Conservation Training center in West Virginia as well as two weekends in the fall and the spring learning how to incorporate nature-based education into the classroom. After participating in TTEC, my outdoor curriculum continued to expand. I am currently working closely with another TTEC Alumni from our school district and for the last two years the third grade students in our building have had the opportunity to explore the Sacony Creek Trail with her 7th grade students as leaders.
Also during the summer of 2011, several parents at our school began installing seven raised garden beds in our school’s courtyard. The school garden was a great opportunity for me to expand my place-based curriculum, which is why I became involved in our school garden and serve on the garden committee. As a member of the school garden committee, I coordinate our monthly meetings and help to plan school-wide events relating to the garden. I also utilize the school garden in my curriculum.
Most recently, I have completed professional development coursework related to school gardens through Longwood Gardens and West Chester University and I will continually seek professional development opportunities to expand my knowledge of school gardens and outdoor education.