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 recently completed phase one of Healthy Trees, Healthy Kids!, a multi-year initiative to plant 1,000 shade trees and fruit trees and engage children and volunteers in hands-on environment education activities.
The plantings targeted 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 can even provide healthy snacks. As illustrated below, when it comes to canopy cover, not all school campuses are created equal. Our tree plantings aim at increasing “canopy equity” in our region.
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 above 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 what role they play in the urban forest ecosystem. In addition, Canopy’s K-12 school programs provide powerful opportunities for students to make the connection between caring for the new trees on their school campus and caring for the environment. These unique, hands-on encounters with nature enable students to understand abstract scientific concept and nurture environmental ownership, responsibility, and stewardship.
Employment and Job Training for Local Youth
Canopy employs East Palo Alto high school students as Urban Forestry Technicians. The members of Canopy’s Teen Urban Foresters (TUFs) are trained by professional ISA-Certified Arborists and taught marketable industry skills. Tree planting, tree care, pruning, leading volunteers, mentoring younger YTC members, and serving as professional Canopy representatives–this is all in a day’s work for Canopy’s Teen Urban Foresters! In addition to earning an income, Youth Tree Corps members gain valuable workplace experience while building confidence, work ethic, and leadership skills.
Stay tuned for exciting plans to implement Healthy Trees, Healthy Kids! Phase Two!