The morning sun shone brightly over Kinzie Park in Kitchener in September, as students from Howard Robertson Public School worked to transform the space and plant ten trees in partnership with Love My Hood and the City of Kitchener. The event, aligned with National Tree Day and National Forest Week, was the kickoff of the Tree Planting Pilot aimed at increasing the number of trees in Kitchener parks.
Brian Smith, a Grade 5/6 teacher at Howard Robertson, explained how the project started over the past summer, when he spotted an email mentioning that the City was looking for applicants for a tree planting pilot project.
“I put the application in and promptly forgot about it for two months,” said Smith. He didn’t have to wait long, and quickly received the approval for his application. In September, as soon as school was back in, Smith hit the ground running and began working with his students to create a plan. This involved two walking field trips to Kinzie Park to map out the land, and plan the ideal location to plant their trees. The students were eager to take part from the start.
“They really latched onto it and they’ve been excited,” said Smith.
Taking part in the pilot project involves a two-year commitment to care for the trees, Smith explained. The class will be watering and caring for the trees from planting, through to the end of the school year. From there, staff members and volunteers will help to support through the summer until next year’s students can take over.
This isn’t just a learning opportunity for Smith’s class, he explained, but for all of the students at Howard Robertson. To help get the entire school community on board, Smith’s class has planned a kickoff event that he hopes will get everyone excited about the project in Kinzie Park. This will involve inviting other students to see the space and the work accomplished by his students.
The project connects to multiple areas of the curriculum, Smith explained. From the media unit, as students created flyers to inform the neighbourhood about the project, to language and science, as students expand their knowledge of the ecosystem and the role trees play. The event even offered the chance to learn more about the levels of government, with Kitchener Ward 2 Councillor Dave Schneider joining the students to help plant the trees and offer first-hand insight into local government. Exploring all of these areas with one large project offers a cohesion that is otherwise harder to attain, Smith added.
“I really appreciate that the City has this opportunity,” Smith said, and he looks forward to seeing where the students take it.
Jenna van Klaveren, an associate with the City of Kitchener’s Neighbourhood Development Office (NDO), explained the class at Howard Robertson was an ideal applicant to the pilot program, as it offers an existing community to support the planting project and a real-world educational opportunity for the students. The purpose of the work the NDO does, she explained, is to support community members in creating spaces where people spend time and come together.
“This was a great opportunity to educate the students about why trees are important and how they help our environment,” said van Klaveren. “Having the students come together to plant the trees themselves also helps to create a greater sense of neighbourhood pride and connectedness.”
Students started the day with a quick lesson from David Schmitt, an Environmental Urban Forest Project Manager at the City of Kitchener, on the proper method to plant a tree. From there, they dug in and started planting. Although they learned practical skills like these, van Klaveren hopes the real lesson students take away from this project is something bigger.
“I hope they come away with the idea that they can work together to do something really cool in their community,” she said.
The enthusiasm of the students was clear to see, Schmitt explained, as students rushed to grab shovels and get their hands dirty. He hopes the experience builds their awareness and appreciation for trees in their community. Planting trees and growing the urban forest is just one small thing people can do to address Climate Change on a local level, he explained.
Taking a look at the park and the row of freshly planted trees, Njeri, a grade 6 student at Howard Robertson, remarked at the transformation of the space.
“Before, the park was plain and boring. Now, it will be more beautiful,” said Njeri.
For Ryan, a grade 5 student, the tree planting project is all about supporting and building the local sense of community.
“We’re just planting trees, having fun, helping the community,” said Ryan. “It’s a good feeling to help the community.”
Ryan, who will be moving closer to the greenspace, is excited that this will now be his local park. He plans to return regularly to care for his tree, and share the space with family, friends and neighbours.
As the planting came to a close, Smith revealed his ultimate goal for all the students that will take part in this project.
“I hope they respect the world around them and see how they can make change,” said Smith. “Change isn’t just something somebody else does.”