On May 20, third-grade teacher Alison Jueschke and the statewide non-profit, Tree Utah, helped the Howard Driggs Elementary students of today help the Howard Driggs students of tomorrow by pulling a Chinese proverb from the stratosphere of philosophy down into the dirt of fertile reality: “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The next best time is now,” goes the proverb.
“Tree Utah teaches youth to recognize the importance of trees in our lives and the health of our community. When a student participates in a school planting event, they have a sense of ownership for the tree and feel responsible for its well being,” said Emily Mulligan, education coordinator for Tree Utah.
Howard Driggs Elementary applied for a 2015 spring planting grant aimed at helping communities plant trees on publicly accessible land and growing the roots of tree-education; their brass ring is to elevate the local environment by planting one tree at a time, or in this case, four.
With one Wireless Zelkova, one Japanese Tree Lilac, one Giant Sequoia and one Ginko Tree waiting to be planted, students left the sterile atmosphere of the classroom and gathered outside in a gaggle of excitement.
“Children are part of our communities and our potential future leaders. Their learning and experiences should help prepare them to be successful and to help make the world better,” Jueschke said when asked if learning about trees went beyond the proverbial green thumb. “They are better able to connect their learning to life and their environment.”
Third-grade teacher, Alison Jueschke quizzes her students about photosynthesis.
After a brief, no-holds-barred quiz, where Jueschke tested her students on the proper care of trees and the science of trees, Nate Orbock, planting coordinator for Tree Utah, began the process of loosening the first tree’s roots, preparing for it to be planted, where it will stand for years to come.
“We can create ‘tree ambassadors’ at an early age,” Orbock said as he explained to the children the importance of what they were doing.
“We hope that helping to improve our local community will inspire people to become active stewards of the environment,” he said.
Each child scooped up a handful of dirt and helped pack the tree. By allowing the children a part in the process, the idea is that they will come to think of these trees as their own, thus creating a feeling of personal responsibility.
Gwen, one of Jueschke’s students, sees the importance of planting trees with an anthropomorphic eye: “It’s important to plant trees because they can have feelings,” she said.
Eight-year-old Naomi holds a more literal position for the necessity of trees. “I think trees are helpful because they give us fruits, and food helps us live,” she said.
Brock, another third-grade student of Jueschke, is more scientific about it. He says, “It’s important to plant trees because they help us breathe. When you breathe out, you breathe out carbon dioxide and the trees take in the carbon dioxide as air for them and then they breathe out oxygen for us.”
Myriad opinions aside, Jueschke projects a bigger picture.
“The real life multi-sensory experience of touching, smelling, seeing, hearing the fresh soil and trees makes us more alive, alert, refreshed, and connected to each other and our environment. We appreciate Mike Douglas, Howard R. Driggs Elementary School’s principal, for enriching the lives of students and teachers by promoting and supporting hands-on learning and making our school a more beautiful and healthy place. Students, teachers, staff, neighbors, school district personnel, and community members such as Tree Utah and The City Journal enjoyed a special experience and connected to a bigger part of our community,” she said.