Troy High School Courtyard Club students Aleena Malik, Shreya Keeta, Nina Aitas, Amy Liang and Sonnet Xu stand in a snow-capped courtyard they hope to transform into an eco-friendly gathering space for the school community.

Troy High School Courtyard Club students Aleena Malik, Shreya Keeta, Nina Aitas, Amy Liang and Sonnet Xu stand in a snow-capped courtyard they hope to transform into an eco-friendly gathering space for the school community.

Photo by Jonathan Shead

Troy High students tackle environmental sustainability

By: Jonathan Shead | Troy Times | Published February 25, 2021


TROY — Two Troy High School student groups have announced projects to tackle environmental sustainability at their school and throughout the community.

The Troy High School Courtyard Club, led by co-presidents Nina Aitas and Aleena Malik, as well as faculty advisor and teacher Katie Robles, will launch a campaign March 1 that seeks to revitalize the high school’s courtyard into an eco-friendly space for students and staff to use. Their project, if funded, would help implement outdoor classrooms and hallways, a compost site, and an outdoor garden.

Troy High School seniors AJ Joseph and Katherine Ni, and junior Sonal Betageri, have launched a campaign to plant enough trees — 270 to be exact — in the hope of offsetting the amount of paper the high school used in 2019. Their campaign, Tree-Plenish Troy, is part of the larger national nonprofit Tree-Plenish, which promotes tree planting events in local communities.

The two groups together hope to plant seeds of environmental sustainability that spread and become rooted in the Troy community.


Planting positive change
The Courtyard Club members want to create an eco-friendly space for staff and students at the high school. At the same time, they want to show other students the impact they can have on the environment.

“Just letting students know they can have an impact on their own school, (and) that they can come together, that’s a big part of this,” Aitas said. “Once we get the final product going, students from different clubs and the whole school will come together on this. Coming together as a community to solve a problem — that’s important for them to realize they can do too, even as students.”

Once the courtyard is built out, Malik also envisions projects like the garden could help educate students in the district from a young age by helping them get their hands dirty, literally.

“It would be cool to integrate some of the things we’re doing into the curriculum. For example, biology. Maybe the class does an outdoor planting project or something,” Malik said. “Getting the younger kids involved and having it in our curriculum would be super cool. … It’s educating (them) from the very beginning.”

As part of the high school’s environmental activist club, Joseph, Ni and Betageri said they wanted to host a project that could help the environment and the school concurrently. “By doing Tree-Plenish, we are able to reverse some of the effects we have from buying paper as a school. By planting more trees we can offset that,” Joseph said.

Increasing the school’s green thumb is one part of this project, Joseph explained, but the larger impacts will come once the trees are planted and begin to grow.

“By planting more trees we’re not just balancing out the harm we did by cutting the tree for paper, we’re also helping out by offsetting the fossil fuel we use with our cars as a suburban community. We can help regrow habitats of some of the species in this community. The trees could help keep our air and waterways clean, as well as pollinate some of our food,” Joseph said.


Leveraging local support
Communitywide projects as transformative as these campaigns hope to be can’t happen alone or overnight. The community’s support will be crucial to implementing the groups’ eco-friendly changes.

“One of the things I keep telling anybody involved in this club is that this is real, so it’s going to take time. It’s not something that’s going to be done in one semester or class. It’s real life,” Robles said. “We’re going to have to talk to contractors, get ideas and brainstorm. Things might take years, and there might be freshmen in the club that might barely see (these projects) get built. That’s really hard when you’re in high school to have a big picture like that, because a lot of things have a semester start and end.”

For the Tree-Plenish Troy team, community involvement may be the most important aspect to their campaign.

“It takes a lot. You really need that community involvement, and community backing,” Tree-Plenish Co-Founder Sethu Odayappan said. “We can easily plant our trees in a forest somewhere that no one knows about, or in a state park, but we really like doing residential planting involving a lot of different homeowners and volunteers so the entire community can rally behind this idea of giving back what you take.”

“Even the smallest contribution of just buying one tree would be so helpful,” Betageri added.

The excitement and support surrounding the Courtyard Club’s project from students haven’t dwindled during the pandemic as much as Robles thought it might. “I almost thought it was going to fizzle out,” she said about the club, but the club’s co-presidents have kept the fire alive, she said.

“It’s more than just one club. We hope we can have art students designing things and the environmental club putting together gardens,” Robles said. “It’s a bigger vision that we can get a lot of kids involved that are excited about it.”

However, the club’s success will depend on more than just student support, Aitas said.

“We’re fostering more than just an individual courtyard. It’s the mentality of taking care of the planet and coming together to solve a problem and work together,” she said. “It’s important to encourage that.”


Inspiring action
As the two student groups get their campaigns underway, the lasting effects of their eco-friendly additions may not yet be known, but Joseph believes the student community has a responsibility to right the ship.

“This community is full of students that go to either Troy High (School) or Athens (High School),” they said. “As students from this community, it’s all our responsibility to help offset the amount of trees and paper we use.”

Students might be the best minds to solve the environmental issues our global community faces, Odayappan believes. “We genuinely believe that youth are the most equipped to handle this climate crisis, so we want to leverage that passion and power of youth,” he said, adding that the national nonprofit has plans to host several tree-planting events across the country this spring.

The Courtyard Club members hope their project helps the school body continue to practice environmental sustainability and keep it at the forefront every day into the future.

“The clubs at school would be able to continue maintaining the courtyard and the compost. That’ll just continue the eco-friendly mentality that goes along with it,” Aitas said. “Also these are things that students and staff will be able to use every day with the possibility of an outdoor seating area and classrooms. It’ll be an everyday help for the school.”

For more information or to support the Courtyard Club, visit

For more information or to support the Tree-Plenish Troy team, visit Tree-Plenish Troy will be selling river birch and red maple trees for $5 per tree. Trees will be available for pickup at Troy High School April 24. They come as saplings and don’t need to be planted immediately.