More than 100 acres of land sits behind Bellefonte Area High School, and teacher Myken Poorman is looking to develop 2 to 3 acres for educational and community use.
The idea includes retrofitting a farmhouse and garden by implementing sustainable designs to allow district and community members to interact with and benefit from — all while working in partnership with Penn State students to find a model for growth, develop a master plan and create best practices for implementation for students.
Ground could break as early as spring on a garden, with help from a $3,000 grant from the state Department of Environmental Protection.
“I found out about this land and went to see it,” Poorman said. “I heard of some plans for it, but there is an old stone farm house, and in the yard area with a field, (there’s) not a whole lot they can do with that space. I started thinking I could put a garden down there and do a farm-to-school type deal, and work on planning and development in phases when grants and funding comes through.”
Poorman’s hope is that the benefits of the project go beyond just the students in her various agriculture classes. The goal is for the project to also be a valuable learning tool for Penn State students, and an asset for the Bellefonte community.
“We see so many possibilities as a district,” Poorman said. “It’s rare for a school to have land like this and it’s a huge benefit to us with limitless opportunities. It’s the chance to get out of the classroom and put learning from a book into real-world application that you can’t really get between four walls.”
Through the partnership with Penn State’s Sustainability Institute, the goal is to make Poorman’s vision a reality through a multiphase plan.
Poorman pitched the idea to the director of the Sustainable Communities Collaborative at Penn State last fall.
“They seemed to be just as excited as we were,” she said.
At a school board meeting earlier in the year, Poorman addressed the nine-member board and district administrators with Ilona Ballreich and Michele Halsell, both of the university’s Sustainability Institute.
“We’re really grateful for the partnership with the Bellefonte Area School District,” Halsell said. “When Myken first called us and described this project and we sat down and started talking about it, we recognized the potential this project had to create a great learning opportunity for Penn State students, too.”
Halsell, the institute’s director, said the project is an opportunity for Penn State students to answer research and design questions, and apply their skills to a project that “could make a real difference in a community.”
Poorman said another long-term goal includes creating an advisory committee with community and school members to implement ideas for projects that would align with the mission for property use.
“I teach a lot of different classes and this already relates to my curriculum, and community service (hours) students need to graduate, but there are endless opportunities that go beyond four walls at Bellefonte,” Poorman said.