April 23, 2008


Students clean up Dwyer Park

About 30 students participate from Cortland County Youth Leadership group


Bob Ellis/staff photographer   
Cortland Alternative High School student Angel West, right, balances on a rock as she retrieves litter from a creek in Dwyer Memorial Park as Tiffany Smith looks on. Five schools from the Cortland County Youth Leadership program helped clean the park Tuesday. 

Staff Reporter

LITTLE YORK — Wearing bright yellowish-green T-shirts, work gloves and toting rakes and clear bags, about 30 students and their school advisors cleaned up Dwyer Memorial Park Tuesday morning in celebration of Earth Day.
The students were from the Cortland County Youth Leadership group, which covers all Cortland County schools, including the Cortland Alternative High School and DeRuyter Central School. The youth group, made up of sophomores and juniors, models Tompkins Cortland Community College’s Leadership Cortland program, designed to develop leadership skills and promote community projects.
Susan Sperger, social worker at Cortland Alternative High School on Port Watson Street, said the school is organized into groups and the group leader — herself, a teacher or the principal of the school — pick up to five students from each school.
Jason Graves, an earth science teacher at Homer and advisor for Homer students, said teachers selected the students, who have the option of participating in the group. He said at Homer two boys opted not to participate this year, leaving only three participants.
Tuesday students spread out in the park, with each school taking a section to clean. Shoes, in particular flip flops, and ceramic coffee mugs were some of the items plucked from the waterways or found near the water.
The Homer teen leaders — Jean Martinez, Holly Niederhofer and Heather Ryan — were startled by a female duck that was nesting beside the water in the park near one of pavilions. She flew into the water leaving 11 eggs behind. These teens also were excited when they found a leech.
“I think it’s a great project,” Niederhofer said. “We had a really nice day for it, too,” said Ryan.
Martinez said the most unusual item they found was what looked like the remains of a duck head with a fish tail attached. “Probably the grossest thing,” added Niederhofer.
The Homer students were using a long stick they found to fish things out of the water.
Tiffany Smith, a sophomore at the Cortland Alternative High School, found another way to retrieve trash from the stream. She took off her flip-flops and waded into the water to pull out an intact ceramic coffee mug.
“It’s a good idea,” said Smith. She said usually the alternative school does community service projects in which students work indoors. “This is more of an adventure for us,” she said.
“It’s just a thing that we’re doing together — the CCYL Earth Day Cleanup,” said McGraw sophomore Vitaliy Levitskiy, who raked leaves by the wading pool. “I definitely have a lot of practice raking,” he said, noting his family has lots of trees on their property.
Scott Torbitt, a junior at the Cortland Alternative High School, said he did not think it would take two hours to complete the task with so many working on it. He liked the idea of helping the “park look a little better” even though by next year the students’ work would not be noticeable.
Sperger gathered her students on a footbridge that crossed a stream in front of a small waterfall.
Manny Lann, director of the Cortland County Youth Bureau and organizer of the teen group, said he tried to coordinate the project with the Cortland cleanup Saturday, but the weekday worked out better for the students. “We wanted to try a group project this year instead of everyone doing their own.”
In the past, members came up with an individual project for their school.
Christine Place, a Cortland architect and school board member who helped organize the day’s events, said the theme of the leadership group this year is recycling and ecology. She said the school advisors decided to do something together this year. Lann said the advisors came up with the idea of cleaning up the county park.
The advisors for schools, in addition to Graves and Sperger, are: Lori Middendorf, Cincinnatus; Jill Pace, Cortland; Maureen Alger, DeRuyter; Michelle Walker, Marathon; and Joe Seamans, McGraw.
Also helping organize the event were Machell Phelps, executive director of the Cortland Regional Sports Council; John Shirley, director of career services at SUNY Cortland; and Bonnie Calzolaio, director of the Cortland-Homer-McGraw Teachers’ Center.