Andover Elementary School students May 29 got a hands on lesson about the importance of trees and what they need to grow.
Future generations will be able to enjoy the fruits of their predecessors’ labor thanks to a $10,000 donation from Connexus Energy. Along with a 16-tree donation from the city of Andover, the school was able to plant one tree for every one of its 51 classrooms, according to Diana Preisen, a community forest specialist with Tree Trust.
“I’m really glad they donated to us,” said third-grader Maya Bastian. “It’s good for the environment.”
Tree Trust, a nonprofit organization, has been helping the environment through similar tree plantings at Minnesota schools since 1976.
The organization has always been able to partner with a few schools each year thanks to community sponsors. Along with Connexus Energy, CenterPoint Energy, Covanta Hennepin Energy Resource Co. and Xcel Energy Foundation are also making it possible to donate trees to three other elementary schools in Eagan, St. Louis Park and Minneapolis.
Kim Lawler, director of development and community relations with Tree Trust, said each company donated $10,000, but Andover Elementary needed to find more donations so it could plant 51 trees.
Andover Elementary joined the city in filling the funding gap, using proceeds from an ice cream social, according to Ann Sangster, assistant principal.
Third-grade classmates of Bastian said they learned that trees provide oxygen and shade and need a lot of water to survive. The Tree Trust specialist made sure to explain every step of planting a tree from digging the hole, to making sure the roots are loose before planting it, adding the mulch and then finally watering it. Students asked a lot of questions, picking up useful tips while watching a tree being planted in front of them.
Elementary students have science lessons in the classroom, but fifth-grade teacher Mark Cotter and third-grade teacher Jon Olson appreciated the hands-on experience for their students.
According to Olson, he was just happy to get the students outdoors. His class had wanted to do some cleaning outdoors for Earth Day, but snow put this off. He said the students were learning life skills that would help them understand the importance of conservation in order to preserve the natural beauty around them.
“It’s important to teach them early and young so they can take care of these trees as they get older,” Preisen said.
Maintaining the older trees around the school’s campus could be more challenging if emerald ash borer ever gets to Andover. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the invasive beetle has been found in Mounds View, but the transfer of diseased wood can spread it quickly.
There are a lot of ash trees on Andover Elementary’s property, so the students planted 16 different species such as aspen, dogwood, elm, jack pine, red oak and river birch. Kameron Kytonen, Andover’s forester, said a diverse tree population can limit the spread of diseases and prevent the loss of a whole stand of trees should there be diseases.
Ash trees are one of the more prominent species of tree in Minnesota, Lawler said. An article by Mary Hoff posted on the DNR’s website says this tree became more abundant in the upper Midwest in the wake of the Dutch elm disease epidemic during the 1970s. The DNR estimates there are about 998 million ash trees in Minnesota.
Andover Elementary site improvements are going beyond the addition of new trees. The school and Tree Trust are working on securing volunteers to install 12 benches and a teachers table on the back side of the school for an outdoor learning area.
Kytonen is working with the school to add low maintenance plants such as wildflowers to the low elevation basin in order to improve site drainage, cut back on lawn space that has to be mowed and improve the overall appearance of the property from Hanson Boulevard.
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]