TECH VALLEY STUDENTS HELP REBUILD HAITI

High school representatives to plant 500 fruit trees in Cormier next year

JENNIFER PATTERSON
Section: Capital Region,  Page: B6

Date: Tuesday, October 23, 2012

RENSSELAER -- When students at Tech Valley High School aren't busy with homework and extracurricular activities, they're finding new ways to help Haitians recover from the devastating 2010 earthquake.


Environmental science teacher Leah Penniman and a group of 11 students will travel to Cormier, Haiti -- a rural farming community made up of about 100 families -- in February to plant 500 fruit trees, working side by side with local farmers. While only a small number of students will travel to the impoverished country, everyone at the school is involved in the effort.


"This is a great chance to get students involved in something that not only makes a difference but connects directly to their studies," said Penniman, an environmental science and biology teacher who has taught at the school since it opened in 2007. "We've had an ongoing relationship with this community, which was at the epicenter of the earthquake and really hard hit."


Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Living conditions are basic; streets are poorly maintained; and farms often suffer from droughts that cause food shortages.


With this in mind, Penniman and her students began working on a reforestation design project this year to develop planting strategies, forest mapping and business planning for farmers to ensure that the fruit crop enhances their livelihood. The students' design also advances soil conservation and ecological wellness for the land. These strategies are grounded in the needs, ideas and vision of Haitians and also based on successful reforestation projects that were sustainable, benefiting all members of the community, Penniman said.


This isn't the first outreach effort Tech Valley students have been involved with. Last year, Penniman and her ninth-grade environmental science class designed a waste system for residents in the same Haitian community. Penniman personally took the design to Cormier and, for two weeks, led a workshop on how to implement the system and make it functional. She missed five days of school, but was able to Skype with her students to give them updates.


"I am excited to go to Haiti because I have heard all of my life about helping others, from my church, from my parents, from our school," said Alysha Gagnon, a senior from Cohoes. "I feel that this is a real opportunity to help others in a very real way."


Gagnon's fellow classmates traveling to Haiti include Elizabeth Joven, Catskill; Annmarie Pryor, Wynantskill; Benjamin Johnson, Averill Park; Grace White, Schalmont; Hunter Dimin, Averill Park; Hunter Fortuin, Berne-Knox-Westerlo; Max Morris, Ichabod Crane; Meghan Powers, Berlin; Troy O'Neill, Coxsackie-Athens; and William Kested, Greenville.


The sense of excitement is palpable at the school as students prepare to be guests abroad by learning about the Haitian culture and language.


"The students have been working really hard," Penniman said. "Raising the funds we need to help others continues to be a collaborative effort between the school, students, their families and the community."


For information, go to https://www.techvalleyhigh.org/haiti.html.


jpatterson@timesunion.com - @JenSPatterson - 518-454-5340





Adopt a tree


Tech Valley students will travel to Cormier, Haiti, to plant 500 fruit trees in February. They need to raise $5,000 for seedlings, tools and funds for ongoing tree care, as well as money for travel expenses. To adopt a tree, go to https://www.techvalleyhigh.org/haiti.html.