DAUPHIN COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — Students at Steelton-Highspire High School are taking their summer school program outside the classroom and are transforming their school in the process.

An assembly line started forming outside the school Wednesday afternoon, creating a bed of mulch for brand-new picnic tables.

“[We’re] about to take down these mulches and place them across the field,” rising senior Kenneth Pillier said.

It’s the latest in a series of projects summer school students are working on.

“I’m very proud of what we’re doing here,” Pillier said.

Get severe weather alerts with newsletters and push alerts from the abc27 Weather Team!

Principal Eleni Cordero said, “It’s so exciting, it’s awesome, it’s the best feeling.”

Those projects are part of Steel High’s new summer school curriculum. Besides the mulch bed and picnic tables, students are also building a garden for Special Ed students, repainting the pillars at the front of the school and working on some changes indoors as an effort to brighten up their campus.

“Mostly picnic benches, I helped clear out some vegetation and I dragged out some mulch, which is why I had to change shirts,” Pillier said, describing what he has worked on.

Pillier is now gearing up for his senior year, but that almost didn’t happen.

“Our kids were behind in credits from COVID, it was a COVID issue,” Cordero said.

Pillier was one of several students missing credits he needed to graduate on time, a casualty of the pandemic disrupting normal school. Cordero and her team decided to change up summer school to engage more kids and get them back on track.

“We need project-based learning here, our kids are tired of being behind screens, they’re tired of being at home,” Cordero said.

They had the students come up with project ideas to do around the school and create proposals.

“This isn’t my school, this is their school,” Cordero said.

Get daily news, weather, breaking news and alerts straight to your inbox! Sign up for the abc27 newsletters here.

The students then pitched these projects to Home Depot as part of applying for a grant from The Home Depot Foundation. They got the grant — almost $20,000 — and Home Depot also sent staff members to help students make those project ideas a reality.

“We’re out giving direction, teaching these young students how to get their hands dirty,” Home Depot assistant store manager Kyle York said. “Everything we do is to better and enhance the place where we live too because this is our community as well.”

Pillier hopes his fellow students appreciate the work that went into these changes when the whole school returns in the fall.

“I’m glad that we got the chance to do something like this,” Pillier said. “Fix the bleachers and the gym and all this stuff, make the school look really nice.”

For Pillier, doing this was also a major step in his high school journey. With summer school credits, under his belt, he is now back on track to graduate.

“Seeing all my friends graduated last year made me really happy, and now I get to see them be happy for me,” he said.

The summer school projects also gave him and his friends a chance to leave a lasting impact on the Steelton community.

Get the latest Pennsylvania politics and election news with abc27 newsletters

“It’s always going to be cool to know that the school is going to look like this because I helped and my friends helped build all of this,” Pillier said. “Please, please take care of this community it’s so beautiful.”

“Yeah there’s things that happened with COVID, but our kids are amazing,” Cordero said. “Our kids want to do great things and they are doing great things and this is just the start for Steelton.”

Steel High has more projects and events planned for the rest of summer, including keynote speakers and a 3-on-3 tournament.

Stay up to date with the latest news with the free abc27 News app for iPhone and Android