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Leaving a Lasting Imprint on Their Community

SkillsUSA Pennsylvania students get hands-on with landscape design while beautifying their local zoo.
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Photo courtesy of Central Montco Technical High School.

SkillsUSA students from Central Montco Technical High School (CMTHS) in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., recently used their passion for nature and community service to build an elephant-inspired steppingstone path at nearby Elmwood Park Zoo. The project was part of the school’s “Summer Career and Technology Experiences” program, where middle school students from surrounding school districts join with ninth graders to explore new skills and career pathways, including Culinary Arts, Healthcare Sciences, Computer Networking, Cosmetology and Landscaping.

Dubbed the “Elephant Ear” project, this landscaping effort involved students using an elephant leaf (a tropical plant) to create hardscape steppingstones that would make up a new walking path in a picnic area at the zoo. Each leaf shape was imprinted directly on the stones.

The project took three days to complete. The first two days were spent making the steppingstones and allowing them to cure. On the third day, students and CMTHS staff went to the zoo to map out the walkway layout and excavate the area. Next, the steppingstones were laid out and secured with new soil so they’d remain stationary while guests walked across them.

Students were able to work with materials they’d never had any previous experience with, such as quick-setting concrete, chicken wire and various building tools.

“Learning is more authentic and meaningful for students when hands-on skills are applied in a practical way, and that’s how we teach our students,” says Dr. Angela King, CMTHS’s executive director. “These experiences allow our middle and early high school students to get excited for project-based learning.” 

“This project allowed young learners to leave their own legacy: a lasting imprint in the community,” adds Michele Ruhl, special education coordinator at CMTHS.

Central Montco plans to continue projects like this next summer and give students headed to high school the opportunity to be hands-on in the community.

Follow the progress of the project through these videos from the CMTHS Facebook page:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

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