Community Tree Planting

by Richard Clough

If you happened by an MSD Pike school on April 17, you might have seen a group of students planting a tree on their campus. The trees were each given their own name. “Percy Persimmon”was the choice of the New Augusta South Elementary School fifth graders who planted the tree. At the Freshman Center, that task was assigned to students still learning English and they surprised their teacher by naming their tulip tree “Jenni-tree” to honor her. The high school tree was dedicated to the Robin Run Green Team from the retirement community next door. They sponsored the tree and supported the project financially. At Eastbrook Elem., the tree was named “Sally” to honor a much loved and longtime employee. College Park Elementary students had read Katherine Applegate’s Wishtree and chose “Wishing Tree” as their tree’s name. As in the book, they attached leaves with wishes on them. A tree was planted at each of 14 Pike schools as well as at the Administration Building.

The tree planting project began with Resilient Pike, a group of volunteers from the Township who shared a passion for the environment and a desire to work to meet future challenges arising from our changing climate. In the summer of 2018, they hired two high school interns who interviewed over 70 community leaders, students and citizens. While concerns were very diverse, there was agreement that education of our young people about our changing world was critical. Based on those findings, Resilient Pike proposed a partnership to the Pike School system. Guided by Facilities Director, Mr. Raul Rivas, the plan was presented to Supt. Dr. Flora Reichanadter who enthusiastically endorsed it. In November, the Board of Education unanimously approved the partnership adding words of appreciation for Resilient Pike. The proposal called for several actions including participation in the city’s Thrive Indy School’s Challenge, adoption of no-idle zones and other healthy practices, a youth summit and, most significantly, a tree planting project.

The partnership proposal called for an initial planting of one tree at each school in 2019 and a larger planting in subsequent years. While the trees themselves were considered important, of greater concern was they serve as an educational tool to make students aware of our environment and challenges to it as well as steps to mitigate this threat. Pike’s STEM Director, Ms. Erin Naylor, found ways to work this into the curriculum and assigned the task of making this happen to the librarians at each school. At each school, the librarians found different groups to oversee the tree planting. At Snack’s Crossing, the Eco-Rockets worked on the project while at Deer Run, the Student Council and their Helping Hands group guided the tree planting. Each school found a different group to be in charge. Each school prepared for the tree planting by considering the value of trees and their importance for our world. When April 17 arrived, a ceremony was held at each site and again, each school had a different approach. At Eagle Creek Elementary, the students conducted a reader’s theater as they planted “Shady Lou.” Fishback Creek Elementary read a top ten list of the benefits of trees.

The tree was planted at Guion Creek Middle School by students from other lands who compared their tree to ones in their native lands. Sometimes, the ceremony took unexpected twists as well. At Guion Creek Elementary, there was a ceremony but the discovery of some earthworms provided an impromptu lesson on the value of the wiggly creatures. At the end of the day, there was a newly planted tree at each school. Of far greater importance, the participating students all gained a greater appreciation of trees and their value to sustaining our environment. Additionally, the students made a commitment to the future.

At the Freshman Center tree planting, a young woman named Lauryn asked how long the tree would live and was told 60 years or more. Her reaction was, “Cool! I’m going to bring my kids here and tell them I helped plant that tree.” Resilient Pike is currently at work on an expanded tree planting for next year in conjunction with Keep Indianapolis Beautiful. It is hoped not only that a tree be planted at each school but that more than 100 other trees be planted at sites around the school system.

Andy Fry