Githens Middle School students take responsibility

Students team up with Keep Durham Beautiful to improve school environment
Dec. 14, 2013 @ 10:39 PM

A group of 115 sixth graders at Sherwood Githens Middle School on Old Chapel Hill Road embraced the Keep Durham Beautiful mission last month when they took responsibility for their school’s outdoor environment.

Guided by a dynamic science teacher, Amanda Parfitt, the students, who call themselves “Stafish Helpling Hands,” outlined and executed a plan to remove litter and invasive plants. Their goal for the day involved beautifying a large natural woodland corridor between the school building and its athletic fields.

Their overall mission is to reclaim their school campus by cleaning the area and erecting outdoor classroom activity centers. They intend to develop centers for cross-curricular activities and for the enjoyment of the people of the community.

Keep Durham Beautiful (KDB) partnered with the student service group, providing gloves, litter grabbers, trash bags, and hand tools for invasive-plant clearing. In a litter-collecting competition, the students filled 29 trash bags, also pulling discarded desk chairs, a picnic table, a mailbox, two tires and several metal poles from the woods and nearby athletic fields.

Students in the project participated on various crews designed to correspond to real-world jobs, such as critter researcher, surveyor, developer, landscaper, historian, translator, reporter, photographer, etc. 

During a post-cleanup presentation Nov. 22, KDB congratulated the youth for their active involvement, emphasizing the positive impact that a litter-free environment full of healthy native trees will have on Durham’s water and air quality. Students learned that removing vines, briars and non-native plants will help preserve the health of the forest as a natural water filtration and soil retention system before stormwater enters nearby New Hope Creek.

City of Durham Solid Waste Management provided a large yard waste container for the students to place all of the non-native plant debris they removed. Students learned about composting and recycling in the process.

To support the effort, UNC Botanical Gardens invited teachers last summer to a four-day native plant training called Earth Partnership for Schools. Native plants will eventually be installed to beautify the outdoor classrooms and woodland trail.

Students constructed bird, bat, butterfly and owl houses. They also heard presentations from Durham County Soil and Water Conservation District, City Solid Waste Management, Friends of Sandy Creek Park, New Hope Creek Corridor Advisory Committee, New Hope Audubon Society, Piedmont Wildlife Center, the NC Herpetological Society, the Science Olympiad and the Durham Fire Department. Their service day culminated with a hot dog and marshmallow cookout.

Plans for the year-long project include outdoor classroom landscaping and several benches along the cross-country path for spectators. Poetry and other demonstrations of Githens student talent will be included.

The coalition of partners contributing resources and expertise to help the student volunteers achieve success is a prime example of the Keep Durham Beautiful mission in action. We commend the Githens Middle School community for facilitating this creative educational experience.

Tania Dautlick is executive director of Keep Durham Beautiful, a non-profit affiliate of Keep America Beautiful that engages and inspires individuals to take greater responsibility for their community environment. Focus areas include litter prevention, beautification, recycling and waste reduction.  To learn about volunteer opportunities, visit or call 919-354-2729. Be sure to like us at or follow us at