PHS Students Turn Trash Into Treasure

by Tom Clemmons

Art and science joined hands at the Pawling High School library Monday evening May 8 to celebrate the triumphant conclusion of “Trash to Treasure,” an innovative learning program. Marked by collaboration, creativity, and hands-on discovery, the year-long “Trash to Treasure” project taught some 25 students from all grade levels at the high school to question assumptions about commonplace trash, re-imagine its value, and repurpose what we call “garbage” as thought-provoking works of art.

Under the direction of renowned Hudson Valley sculptor and environmental activist Aurora Robson, high school art teachers Phyllis Chadwick and Kerry Pinelli partnered with environmental science teacher Sara Von Burg and Friends of the Great Swamp (FrOGS) to develop an intercurricular, field-to-classroom learning project that may very well become the flagship model for other programs like it throughout the state.

It all began last fall when students in the Environmental Science, Creative Crafts, and Sculpture classes were invited to participate in a cleanup at Lakeside Park, an important location in the area’s Great Swamp wetlands. They were then asked to select at least one item from the cleanup – plastic bottles, glass, metal cans, hubcaps, etc. – and something from their own trash (waste streams) at home and turn them into “treasure” to be auctioned off at the end of the year to raise money for environmental awareness.

The evening included a presentation by Robson about the program, first developed for Mary Baldwin University in Virginia, creative stewardship, and envisioning waste as “displaced abundance.” Robson also shared images of her own vast, shimmering, intensely creative sculptures, fashioned out of individually recycled plastic bottles, bottle caps, glass, and other materials. Phyllis Chadwick, Kerry Pinelli and Sara Von Burg were on hand to describe the eventful journey from “trash to treasure” as were many of the student artists. Others who spoke in support of the program included High School Principal Helen Callan and Judy Kelley- Moberg and Nancy Clark of FrOGS. In all, 15 works of art were auctioned off at the end of the evening, with proceeds going to FrOGS.

To learn more about the event, try an online search for “Pawling High School Environmental Science.” To learn about Aurora Robson visit To learn more about FrOGS, visit