NJ students fulfill the dream of beautifying school courtyard

HAMILTON, New Jersey (WPVI) – Students at Hamilton High School West are leaving a legacy in the form of two beautiful gardens on school property. The courtyards, forged by spaces between old and new constructions, were once teeming with weeds.

The garden club’s coordinator, Mark Pwienak, has the history written in the palms of his hands. He is a graduate of the school and the current health and physical education teacher. He was inspired by a marine biology teacher to get involved in the Hamilton Environmental Youth Club.

“We did some work out here,” he said. “We built a fish pond, maybe in like 1999.”

But the green spaces had further potential to be unlocked. Around 2016, school guidance counselor Anthony Belfiore formed a committee to improve the school’s approach to the environment. Pwienak volunteered to plant a few flowers. But the idea grew far beyond its initial seed.

“I just said, Man, what a great space you know, to have a courtyard like this in an enclosed area where people walk through,” said Pwienak. “I couldn’t do that alone. It has to be the kids that drive it.”

By the spring of 2017, the garden club broke ground on an outdoor classroom project and then proceeded to create garden beds, plant flowers, and start construction on a greenhouse.

Dozens of students signed up from all walks of life, making priceless friendships. But not everything was easy.

“Usually, I give up when things are hard, but Mr. Pwienak is really motivational,” said junior Daliana Leon. “He pushed me to keep doing my best even if it wasn’t good.”

The club has become more than just a tool for gardening instruction. It has become a way for students to learn life lessons they will carry beyond graduation.

“I started last year, and I just thought it would be like something nice for community service hours and volunteer hours,” said junior Goodness Alabi. “Then, I walk through here and I see, like, everything that we did and it just makes me feel really good.”

Mr. Pwienak hopes that future generations will contribute and enjoy the splendors of the garden courtyards. Perhaps one day, a student will come back to teach who was inspired by him.

He would like to extend gratitude to the Hamilton High School West community, including Principal Brian Smith, Mrs. Erin Flannigan, Mr. Chuck Zalescik, Mrs. Amanda Weigman, Mr. Matt Palmere, Mr. Jesse Smith, Dr. Robert Farina, Mrs. Laura Geltch and Superintendent Dr. Scott Rocco.

To learn more about the school, visit their website.

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