Litter, piles of trash, graffiti, overgrown yards, weed-covered street tree wells, illegal street signs... Beyond being unsightly, these are the things upon which larger scale blight and property decay is built.
Yet where some see ugliness, others see opportunity. Three educators, Altoona’s Robin Dishong, Hollidaysburg’s Andrea Walter and Tyrone’s Cummins McNitt, turned these unpleasant circumstances into a teachable moment and an opportunity to provide a service to the community during the last few weeks of the school year. Each organized and energized students in their high schools to clean-up and beautify places that were not so beautiful.
Walter has embraced a number of environmental education initiatives in her years at Hollidaysburg Area High School, and believes this work has gone beyond being just a community clean-up. Walter incorporates their semiannual clean-up efforts with her classroom work on watersheds or ecosystems. Beyond those academic connections, Walter notes, “The kids, and adults, get a sense of accomplishment too. You can see the results right then and there.”
Like her counterparts in Altoona and Tyrone, Walter tries to make the best community connections she can. “We try to focus on areas within the district because that will make the most impact to the students. The clean-up sites will be places they are familiar with.”
McNitt embarked upon his Tyrone community clean-up with similar thoughts in mind. His group of 165 juniors and seniors and twenty staff cleaned up a half dozen community parks and several Borough properties and operations. While McNitt admitted a few students welcomed the opportunity to get out of class, most were genuinely interested in doing something worthwhile. “The vast majority wanted to give something back to their community which is most rewarding because this is the lesson we were trying to teach.”
From the perspective of a Civics and Government teacher, McNitt believes the community engagement part of the effort is especially important. “We teach our students the value of giving back to their communities. Volunteerism is one the most important underlying tenants of American life and unfortunately it is fading away with each passing generation. It is important for us to instill this important value.”
Meanwhile in Altoona, Deshong has nearly doubled the ‘Toona Tune-up since its inception in 2013. Ambitious from the beginning, it is now an even more impressive, multi-dimensional beautification program. This year's event encompassed 15 city parks, five city gateways, the downtown area, two museums and the 911 Center.
Like the other programs, their efforts went beyond simply picking up litter. They have continued their graffiti cleanup efforts, re-established a vegetable garden near the Booker T. Washington basketball court and done other plantings.
Deshong noted their graffiti clean-up has helped reduce new graffiti, too, as students have conveyed to their acquaintances that it’s just not right to paint those places or make more work for the clean-ups. Their most visible beautification project has been in the weeding and spreading of mulch under street trees on Sixth Avenue and two new streets they began this year.
A number of organizations supported these recent clean-up and beautification efforts and should be recognized for their community-minded assistance.
- The Public Works Departments of Altoona, Hollildaysburg and Tyrone
- The Blair County Conservation District
- The Altoona Water Authority
- Keep Blair Beautiful/IRC Recycling Office
- Central Blair Recreation Commission
- The Altoona, Hollidaysburg and Tyrone Area School Districts