A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Students plant trees on campuses during inaugural Tree Week, loved ‘putting shovels in ground’

By Tammy Lane
Fayette County Public Schools

When fifth-graders fan out across the playground and grassy field behind Clays Mill Elementary, they will note with pride the small grove they helped plant this fall during Tree Week 2018.

“We got satisfaction from actually doing the work, and it’s so fun to shove shovels in the ground,” said 11-year-old Sam Campbell.
Armed with tools and grit, Sam’s class battled heavy, wet clay to fill the holes around the five trees’ root balls and then scattered mulch on the planting bed, which lies beyond the playground equipment. Going forward, these children will share with their friends and younger students the importance of protecting the grove as it grows.

“Don’t play on the trees or mess them up. Just bask in their shade,” Sam suggested.

Clays Mill and five other schools interested in improving their campus canopies partnered in Lexington’s inaugural Tree Week. The University of Kentucky’s Urban Forest Initiative, local nonprofit Trees Lexington! and FCPS Plant Operations worked together on preparation, supplies, and logistics; then students planted some 40 trees at Clays Mill, Tates Creek, William Wells Brown, and Yates elementaries, Crawford Middle, and Frederick Douglass High School. “The kids have a tie-in to the trees, and hopefully it gives that sense of ownership,” said city arborist Heather Wilson, who led the plantings with colleagues from Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government’s Division of Environmental Services.

The types of trees Wilson chose included the Kentucky coffeetree, northern catalpa, black gum, American hornbeam, bur oak, eastern redbud, American basswood, sugar maple, witch-hazel, dawn redwood, pawpaw, and Ohio buckeye. Each school received five trees except Douglass, which got 10. Wilson recommended mass planting or mini groves, though two schools opted to set out individual trees along driveways.

“Trees grow (stronger) as a community, and it’s easier for maintenance,” she noted.

Sue Marshall, the school district’s grounds supervisor, helped the schools determine their optimal planting sites.

“I tried to pick out areas that would be safe for trees to go, where we wouldn’t be by electric lines and water lines,” she said. In addition, the new trees should not interfere with school activities such as kickball, Field Day, and carnivals, or with mowing. “‘Right tree, right place’ is what we try to do,” Marshall said.

Marshall and her FCPS crew readied the six sites at the end of September, and the city arborists dug the holes the following week. On the planting days near mid-October, Wilson and her team brought shovels, gloves, and wheelbarrows for the students and truckloads of mulch. LFUCG will also monitor and water the trees during the first fall growing season.

As part of the project, students also had the opportunity to hear from Nic Williamson, coordinator of UK’s Urban Forest Initiative. In classroom visits prior to the hands-on work, Williamson and his staffers talked about the ecological, biodiversity, social and wellness, aesthetic, and water-quality benefits of trees.

“It’s really cool for kids to be a part of this planting,” said Williamson, who attended Clays Mill Elementary some 25 years ago. “Hopefully they’ll think back to the different parts of the tree and how they function and say ‘Wow! I’m actually putting this thing in the ground that will thrive and last.”

Fayette County Schools

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