Healthy Trees, Healthy Kids!

Imagine a girl walking outside her 5th grade classroom, ready for some exercise and fun during recess. As she walks onto the playground, the heat is stifling, and the sun so intense that she has to shield her eyes. Looking around she sees no trees, no shade, just the asphalt blacktop. That’s the case at some schools in our community, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

Canopy’s Healthy Trees, Healthy Kids! program is a multi-year initiative to plant 1,000 shade trees and fruit trees that engages children and volunteers in educational activities and the planting of hundreds of trees.

The plantings target tree-poor school campuses and nearby open space areas in Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and neighboring communities.

Trees create better learning environments for students, bring much-needed shade to play areas, increase energy efficiency of school buildings, break up heat islands on campuses and even provide healthy snacks. As illustrated below, Not all school campuses are created equal canopy-wise. Our tree plantings aim at increasing “canopy equity” in our region.

Side by side school ‘canopy’ comparison:


In 2011 Canopy launched the Healthy Trees, Healthy Kids! initiative by bringing together eight corporations and 223 volunteers to plant 200 trees at Green Oaks Academy and Cesar Chavez Academy in East Palo Alto (below video features this particular planting).

Bringing Urban Forest Benefits to School Campuses

Children in some areas of Southern San Mateo County suffer from:

  • disproportionately high asthma rates and poor air quality
  • low physical activity
  • high obesity rates
  • substance abuse and violence

Canopy’s Healthy Trees, Healthy Kids! project addresses these disparities.The program creates healthier school grounds for children by:

  • scrubbing the air of 85% of particulate pollution, a major contributor to asthma
  • replacing a sea of black-top where play equipment can be too hot to touch, with cooler shaded areas that encourage the kind of active play that can combat obesity
  • protecting children from harmful UV rays
  • providing shade for lunch time, which will leave students more alert for afternoon learning
  • lowering air-conditioning costs for school campuses
  • offering healthy additions to kids’ diets with fruit-bearing trees on campus

See a map of planned school plantings below and photos of school campuses in this PowerPoint presentation.

Engaging Children in Hands-on Learning

Hands-on plantings create life-long relationships between children, trees and the environment. During interactive planting demonstrations with program staff and volunteers, children have an opportunity to look at all the parts of the tree and to learn how they help our environment. Canopy’s Viva La Urban Forest classroom presentations provide a deeper look at how trees clean and cool the air and prevent flooding. The science-based Viva La Urban Forest workshops, in high demand by local schools, are adapted for grades K-8. The age-appropriate curriculum contains elements of Spanish and English and meets California science and language art requirements.

Employment and Job Training for Local Youth

Canopy employs East Palo Alto high school students as Urban Forestry Technicians. This Youth Staff is trained by professional ISA-certified arborists and taught marketable industry skills. Digging, planting, mulching, watering, training, pruning, leading volunteers, mentoring younger staff and supporting and representing Canopy’s programs are all in a day’s work for Canopy’s Youth Staff. Working with Canopy, youth earn income and build confidence, work ethic and leadership skills.


“Right in front of my house in East Palo Alto there are seedlings that I helped plant. They are really taking off and the area looks so different. It really makes me feel that I can make a difference!”

~ James Childs,
Canopy’s Youth Program