LITTLE FALLS, NJ - Students and staff members earned their "green thumb" once again at Passaic Valley High School when they took time to beautify their courtyard and front entrance walkway.

Students in the high school's autism program, along with regular education students, worked diligently on placing top soil, installing flower beds and putting in plants on April 27. Staff members supervised the effort. They worked on six raised flower beds in the courtyard, and planted annuals in the front of the high school.

According to Corine Czepiel, art teacher, both projects encompassed several academic departments, which included science, art and mathematics, along with the autism program. Students involved in the environmental, culinary arts and graphic arts program, also lent a hand.

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"Approximately ten students from our main classes were picked - five to work in the morning and then five to work in the afternoon, along with two students from the autism classes during each time period," Czepiel explained. "We also had students from our CAD (Computer Aided Design) program participate."

The project was sponsored by City Green, a non-profit organization dedicated to facilitating the establishment of urban farms and gardens in northern New Jersey cities, according to the website. Based in Clifton, the organization aims to create livable, green and sustainable urban communities. Kohl's of Woodland Park, sent volunteers through their "Go Green" community outreach initiative program.

Jenny Schrum, director of youth programs at City Green, said the project is part of the organization's "school grounds program."

"We consult and train schools across the central and northern part of the state with designing and installing school gardens," she said. "Our headquarters are located on a 5-acre ecosystem farm.

She added that City Green implemented curricula training with teachers at the high school and helped supply funding for the purchase of materials for the project.

"We talked about how to connect different garden disciplines so that they would include aspects of arts, science and math," Schrum explained. "Also, we emphasized using gardening as a tool when applying it through teaching. We also did 'Gardening 101' basics."

City Garden has installed gardens in approximately 75 schools statewide, according to Schrum.

"Passaic Valley High School is part of that network now and it's good that they keep adding and expanding to their space," she noted. "We assisted also with resource allocation for some funding in order to help the school with purchasing materials for the project."

Patricia Lynch, assistant principal of S.T.E.M.,, said the project is beneficial to students.

"Students from at several different departments, working with our autistic program students, are helping here today," she said. "We have Kohl's volunteers with us again this year."

Lynch added that funding for the projects came through as the result of several grants. $5,000 came from BASF, located in Florham Park and $2,000 came from Sustainable Jersey/PSE&G. Approximately $6,500 is set to be received from The Landsberger Foundation of Verona.

"City Green was able to provide reduced pricing for the materials we used for both projects," she explained.

Retiring at the end of the current school year, Lynch said this has been her favorite project.

"I'm so excited about this project even though it's one of my last ones here," she added. "It's one of the best."

Allison Smith, Kohl's supervisor, echoed the sentiment.

"It's a great community project and this is one of our favorite things to do," she said of the project. "It's about giving back to the community."

Superintendent Dr. JoAnn Cardillo, commented on the courtyard and gardening projects.

"These are wonderful opportunities for students to work together and have a truly hands-on experience," she said. "Having community members join us is very. Passaic Valley High School belongs to all three sending districts and everyone is welcome to lend a hand."