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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – It’s STEM Week in Pittsburgh, which is a time to focus on science, technology, engineering and math.

The week will culminate in STEM Fest this Saturday, which is free for all kids and families. A local elementary school in our area is already focused on STEM, particularly environmental science.

In fact, Wexford Elementary school is doing it so well, it’s one of only 46 schools around the country to win the Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Award.

Second grader Tyler Coyne explains part of what makes their school so special.

“Tomatoes, squash, zucchini, lettuce and tomatoes,” he says, listing off just some of the many vegetables the students grow in their courtyard garden.

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It’s overflowing with vegetables, all planted, tended to and picked by the students with the help of their teachers and parent volunteers.

Third grader Leah Timmons says she likes, “digging and planting tomatoes and squash and stuff.”

Michelle Ressler, mother of second grader Nyejah, says many kids don’t know where their food comes from, other than the grocery store.

She volunteers in the garden and says, “Just to have the opportunity to come out here for a couple minutes and see how food really grows…does it grow on a vine? In the ground? It’s really an amazing opportunity for these kids.”

(Photo Credit KDKA)

In addition to learning about how plants grow, the students also learn about composting. After lunch, the kids collect leftover food and scraps from all the kids in the cafeteria. Then, they bring it to the composter in their garden and chop it up. They’re even learning how worms help the garden.

“They love it. The kids just love to collect all of the trash or what we call ‘worm food,’ because we’ve been teaching them about worm composting. So that’s something that we’re going to start this year is the vermicomposting, which is composting with worms,” teacher Tara Hillegas says.

It’s a big responsibility for these little kids, collecting the food themselves instead of adults doing it.

“This way, they get the responsibility to do it rather than somebody else do it for them,” custodian Jerry Glevicky says.

The garden may be small, but the bounty is huge. They’ve already produced 44 squash, 51 pounds of tomatoes and 76 gallons of lettuce. All of the produce is donated to area food banks, teaching kids not only about science, but about service.

“The kids are the future so we need to expose them to all of these different things so they can take care of our planet and each other,” Hillegas says.

Mount Lebanon High School was also one of the 46 schools around the country to win the award, which was featured in a separate Kidsburgh story.

You can learn lots of ways to get your kids excited about science at KDKA’s STEM Fest this Saturday at the Mall at Robinson from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The free event features hands-on activities for kids of all ages, as well as information for teenagers seeking a career in STEM.

Kristine Sorensen