Two teens design, lead Wellness Tree Walk at Los Altos High through Canopy education program

By Canopy Team on December 3, 2022

A group observes a coast redwood tree trunk.

Los Altos High School students Arianna Rodriguez and Cesar Ruiz lead the Wellness Tree Walk they developed on their school campus.

Over the course of a few weeks, two Los Alto High School seniors went from knowing little about trees and the mental health benefits of spending time in nature to designing and leading a Wellness Tree Walk on the grounds of their high school.

Canopy developed the Wellness Tree Walk program, which includes a mix of tree facts and nature-based wellness exercises, in response to an expressed need for more mental health support at certain local high schools. Canopy staff have previously offered the walks at high schools in Palo Alto and Mountain View, but this was the first time a Wellness Tree Walk route has been created directly by students. The research and design by Arianna Rodriguez and Cesar Ruiz will allow Los Altos students to experience the walk and its benefits for years to come.

Two smiling teens pose in front of a tree.
Cesar Ruiz (left) and Arianna Rodriguez

“It was pretty neat to have the walk created and led by students,” says Paul, Canopy’s environmental educator who supervised Cesar and Arianna along with Vanessa, Canopy’s education director.

Canopy was invited to host the educational opportunity by AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), a nonprofit that helps schools shift to a more equitable, student-centered approach. The project started with Arianna and Cesar observing Paul and Vanessa lead a Wellness Tree Walk at Gunn High School along with Gabby Trudeau, Canopy’s community forestry coordinator. The teens then identified a handful of trees on their Los Altos campus, researched key facts about each species, and chose mindfulness exercises to offer at each tree stop. The students practiced their leadership and facilitation skills and received feedback during a dry-run walk for Paul and Vanessa. Two weeks later, they invited friends from school to attend their walk.

The students’ 45-minute presentation began with an acknowledgment of the Indigenous Peoples of the Bay area, brief notes on how nature benefits physical and mental health, and a few facts about how trees benefit the environment and the economy. The students then led participants to three trees, pausing at each to talk about the species and do a wellness exercise. Those wellness practices included a silent walk, with instructions to take in the surroundings through the senses; guided breathing exercises; and thinking of a happy experience from the past week and remembering how it felt in the body.

“I was amazed with both of the students,” says Paul. “Neither Cesar or Arianna seemed very familiar with trees or urban forests prior to their work with Canopy. Cesar has a passion for mental wellness. He mentioned all the stress his peers can have. He is committed to the impact this walk and the wellness practice could have on his school community.”

“This project was a great way to learn more about something I love, nature, while learning to incorporate it into my everyday life to benefit my own mental health,” says Arianna. “This project also made me get out of my comfort zone because I was working with new people in and out of school.” 

Because AVID’s programs serve primarily low-income and prospective first-generation college students, their partnership aligns well with Canopy’s mission of serving lower-resourced communities, Vanessa says. Acknowledging the lack of diversity in the environmental field (Green 2.0 Report), Canopy staff included career conversations in this educational opportunity by inviting Canopy staff Maya Briones, Gabby Trudeau, Juanita Ibarra, and Indira Selvakumaraswamy to have lunch and walk with Arianna and Cesar. Through conversation, the Canopy staff shared their experience and advice as people of color working in environmental advocacy and nonprofits. 

An AVID coordinator is talking with Paul and Vanessa about the possibility of expanding the program to another local high school. “Our ultimate goal is to offer these walks at every high school in our service area,” Vanessa says. “Having the walks be student generated allows the high schoolers to express their needs and priorities. It allows for more community input,” Paul says. “I’d love to honor this format going forward.” Canopy hopes to bring this model of student-created Wellness Tree Walks to East Palo Alto high schools in the future.

At the end of their walk, Arianna and Cesar asked participants to write on a sticky note one thing they enjoyed doing during the walk and how they might incorporate it into their daily lives. The Canopy educators love the reminders that at any age, we can all benefit from spending some mindful time in nature.

“I’ve got my sticky note on my car’s dashboard,” Paul says proudly. Agrees Vanessa: “Mine is on my computer.”

See more photos from the Los Altos High Wellness Walk at Flickr.

Sign up for local tree news, events, volunteer opportunities, and more.

Sign Up

Recent Posts