Penn State students help plant with the gardening club at Glenside Elementary
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Penn State Berks students promote environmental stewardship in Reading

Students develop projects to help bring environmental conservation to the city

READING, Pa. — During the spring 2019 semester, Penn State Berks students in an environmental science course developed projects to help bring environmental conservation to the city of Reading.

Mahsa Kazempour, associate professor of science education, guided students in their efforts and provided them with ideas as part of an Environmental Awareness and Community Action Project (EACAP). The project involved researching an environmental problem and collaborating with an organization to educate the community on the issue or to tackle the issue directly.

“The goal of the project is to raise students’ awareness and understanding of various environmental issues through their own work and those of their peers and involve them in community projects that will allow them opportunities for environmental stewardship now and hopefully into the future,” said Kazempour, “I want them to feel empowered and recognize the power of each individual and to see the numerous opportunities that exist in the community for them to make a positive impact.”

There were 110 students, making up 30 teams, in the class who all worked with groups from the community, such as the CityPark Greenhouse and Berks Nature. These projects all brought different aspects of sustainability to the Reading area, ranging from participating in city cleanup efforts to designing rain barrels. In particular, multiple teams worked with the city of Reading public works office to assist with cleaning the city, planting flowers and surveying neighborhoods, which according to Kazempour went “way beyond the eight hour requirement” for the assignment.

Kazempour has been incorporating EACAP into her class since the spring of 2011, and over the years students have carried out several projects that have had a positive, long-lasting effect on the community. Glenside Elementary School, for example, recently put in place a new school garden, designed and built with the assistance of Kazempour’s students. Since then, the students have been keeping up with garden maintenance, including weeding, replanting certain sections and adding birdhouses. There were other projects done inside the school as well, such as creating educational materials for a program and teaching environmentally related short lessons.

Kazempour believes these projects not only have had a useful, long-lasting effect on the community, but have been a practical teaching tool for her students.

“Students always feel extremely empowered and positive,” she said. “Each semester, they all comment on how this project has opened their eyes to the possibilities that are out there right in the local community. They learned about different ways they can get involved and they felt that they, as a team and as a whole class, made such a positive impact in the community.”