It's first period at the Greater Altoona Career and Technology Center and about a dozen students are missing from class; they're at the mall instead.
They're not checking out the sales at Aeropostale or chowing down on egg McMuffins. They're hard at work.
Hands caked in dirt, the students in Jim Burchfield's horticulture and environmental science classes are digging, mulching and planting to prepare the Easter garden at Logan Valley Mall.
Mirror photos by J.D. Cavrich
Shelby Bickel, a junior from Bellwood-Antis High School, arranges plants at the Logan Valley Mall in Altoona.
The partnership between the Greater Altoona Career and Technology Center and Logan Valley Mall began nine years ago when Burchfield volunteered to have his students help with the interior landscaping for the Easter display in the courtyard outside the JC Penney department store.
"It's great because the kids have cabin fever this time of year and they want to get out of the classroom," Burchfield said.
The students in Burchfield's class are pursuing outdoor occupations and the experience at the mall will help.
"We study landscaping and interior scapes," Burchfield said.
Among the teenagers excited to be out of school was Stephanie Wise, a 10th grader, who wasn't afraid to get her hands dirty.
"I just live in the country and I always like doing outdoors stuff. I just like being out here and being away from school and teachers. I'm not an indoor person," Stephanie said.
Her classmates Jo Edgar, a 10th grader and David Yarwood, a junior, felt the same.
"I like being outside. It's more active instead of sitting behind a desk all day and being bored by teachers," Jo said.
A few weeks before the class begins landscaping, Burchfield draws a blueprint for the design. The students have to study the design to make sure they can implement it correctly.
"Every year the design is different. No two years has it been the same," Joy Weidel, group marketing director for Logan Valley Mall, said.
Last year, the garden was shaped like a rabbit, which mall patrons could view from the upper level. This year the theme is "Easter Bunny's garden." Amidst the flowers and plants will be Easter baskets.
For the class, students must follow the blueprint while they're planting, digging, mulching and spreading stone, along with landscape drawing, pond work and bed work.
Many of the plants and flowers are from the greenhouse at the Greater Altoona Career and Technology Center, which Logan Valley Mall purchases from the school. Most of the other supplies, however are donated by area businesses. This time of year, spring flowers are hard to grow inside. Geraniums, hyacinths, daffodils and tulips are all on display, and will need to be changed at least once in the four weeks the Easter display is at the mall.
"This time of year is difficult for flowers. You need a greenhouse. That's why we use so many of our flowers," Burchfield said.
The students helped plant the flowers and prepare the display for four days. "They learn a lot," Burchfield said. Mall employees will help water and maintain the garden, but Burchfield, his students and his landscaping crew will switch flowers if needed. They will return after Easter to remove the plants and flowers and to take down the display.
"They spend a lot of time doing this," Weidel said. "It's a great little partnership."