Pupils showcased their art skills while creating an environmental message.
By KANTELE FRANKO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
STRUTHERS -- Soon-to-be-eighth-grader Martina Jurek is getting the word out about environmental safety in the Mahoning Valley in a big way.
Jurek, a pupil at Struthers Middle School, created the billboard displayed above LaVilla Sports Bar and Grille on Youngstown Poland Road.
The billboard display was the prize for the overall winner of a poster contest sponsored by the school during its two-week participation in the Mahoning River Education Project, a program based in the Youngstown State University Center for Urban and Regional Studies. The program partners with area schools to teach pupils about their local environment.
Art teacher Ron Mistovich and project coordinator Holly Burnett judged Jurek's river scene as the winner based on its message -- "Save the rivers and the land. Together we can." -- and on how the poster would look as a billboard.
Jurek said she got the idea from a storybook she and a friend wrote during the two weeks in which they taught younger children what they were learning about water quality and conservation.
Prizes and certificates also were awarded to three place winners and three honorable mentions in each grade.
The poster contest was the only voluntary part of the school's participation in the Mahoning River Education Project.
Though Struthers is the only school with the billboard prize for a poster contest, 14 other schools participate in the project, Burnett said.
For two weeks, pupils in each grade study a different environmental theme, such as ecosystems, natural resources, land use and community appearance.
They discuss topics like pollution and Youngstown's brownfields to become better informed citizens, Burnett said. Pupils also take field trips and get hands-on experience in the classroom with the help of visiting community members.
The experience helps pupils to understand where they live, develop an appreciation for it and then invest themselves in it, Burnett said.
"The hope is, of course, that they will not only be more knowledgeable citizens, but that they will feel empowered to make change in the community for the better," she said.
Struthers was the pioneer school when the program debuted four years ago, and the poster contest kicked off a year later.
Mistovich said the school district funds the contest and the billboard, which it receives at a reduced rate from Lamar Advertising Co.
While participating schools pay for field trips, busing and assemblies, the program also receives funding from local, state and national grants, Burnett said.