Coon Rapids school forms partnerships to bring in trees, shrubs

After classroom learning and an interactive exhibit, Sand Creek Elementary School students learning about trees culminated with the opportunity to plant trees or shrubs at a Tree Trust planting event at the school May 30.

Tree Trust volunteer Chris Korwel instructs the watering team of Judy Curtiss’ fifth-grade class at Sand Creek Elementary School’s tree planting event May 30. Each class divided into four teams composed of digging, planting, mulching and watering to plant their own tree. The event was sponsored by Connexus Energy through a grant as part of Tree Trust and Sand Creek Elementary School’s newly formed partnership. Photo by Bethany Kemming

Tree Trust volunteer Chris Korwel instructs the watering team of Judy Curtiss’ fifth-grade class at Sand Creek Elementary School’s tree planting event May 30. Each class divided into four teams composed of digging, planting, mulching and watering to plant their own tree. The event was sponsored by Connexus Energy through a grant as part of Tree Trust and Sand Creek Elementary School’s newly formed partnership. Photo by Bethany Kemming

The event was the result of a newly formed partnership between Tree Trust and the school. Before planting, teachers opened the event by greeting students in tree costumes of different types.

Each classroom received assistance from a Tree Trust or Connexus Energy worker or volunteer who guided them through each planting step. The students were divided into four groups: digging, planting, watering and mulching so every student had the opportunity to help.

“The planting event is the capstone of the whole program,” Tree Trust Director of Development and Community Relations Kim Lawler said.

Students planted a tree in one of three areas around the school to develop three different biomes or environmental communities. They developed a tallgrass aspen parkland biome, a deciduous forest biome and a coniferous forest biome.

“They’re seeing how each part of the ground and the trees interact and work together,” first-grade teacher Mary McDonough said.

The school planted a diversity of trees that day so students could see the diversity and change within the environment. Many classes named their trees, including a kindergarten class which named its tree Tippy because of its tendency to lean. Other classes used the tree type to come up with a name.

“We named our tree Linda the Linden tree,” kindergarten student Tiffany Duong said.

All students also received a Norway pine sapling to plant at home.

A couple of weeks before the planting event, Tree Trust brought the Our Town Trees exhibit to Sand Creek to teach students about the benefits of urban trees. Students learned about how local trees provide habitat, cooling, shade and how they reduce pollutants and clean rainwater.

The interactive display gave students the opportunity to observe an aerial map of the trees in Sand Creek area, use touch and feel boxes to guess habitat objects inside, adjust the rays of a flashlight sun arc, make an art project and mimic a rainstorm. Students went through all five stations, getting their Tree Trust passports stamped for each activity completed and answering questions about what they learned.

McDonough said the Tree Trust planting event and partnership fits well with the school because it teaches students about the environment and fits in well with testing standards and inquiry classroom learning.

Fifth-grade teacher Judy Curtiss said her students had learned about trees through their various inquiry science curriculums.

“It is hands-on learning, planting the tree,” Inquiry Specialist Teacher Amy Eidenschink said. “Today’s the culminating event.”

Connexus Energy Utility Forester Brian Weidenfeller planted a river birch tree and a maple tree with kindergarten and first-grade students at the event.

“They were very enthusiastic about getting in there and helping, and telling you what they already knew about trees and the environment,” Weidenfeller said.

Weidenfeller said Connexus Energy has been sponsoring Tree Trust for more than 15 years as it works with a new school in its service territory each year. Sand Creek was one of the new school partnerships this year, as its partnership with Tree Trust was the result of a grant from Connexus Energy.

Weidenfeller said Connexus annually gives $10,000 to Tree Trust to form partnerships with schools like Sand Creek.

Tree Trust then provided the volunteers and trees to plant at Sand Creek.

In the fall, Sand Creek established a Green Team, made up of around eight Sand Creek staff members who volunteered to plan this planting event and maintain connections with Tree Trust. Sand Creek also set-up an outdoor learning classroom this year with help from Tree Trust.

Tree Trust has worked with more than 174 Minnesotan schools through the Learning with Trees program since 1992.

Bethany Kemming is at bethany.kemming@ecm-inc.com

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