With a grant awarded from Friends Council of Education in 2016 and using STEM based activities, multi-age classes gained an understanding of the needs of and ways to care for trees. Students learned about a multitude of tree species on the school grounds utilizing tree-identifying apps and field guides. Individually, students adopted a tree for the purposes of focused research. Science Buddy (mixed-grade) teams investigated a specific tree’s origin, traits, needs, scientific name and common name. This allowed them to design a horticultural tree tag with a QR code. Students recorded a biographical statement about their adoptive tree in Technology Class. The codes enhance a self-guided educational journey using a smartphone.
As the grant year commenced at school and by sheer coincidence, Meeting members undertook a sweeping beautification project in the Westfield Friends Cemetery. A landscape designer and arborists were brought in to consult on areas in need of improvement. Tree experts helped to identify the unique tree species, dead wood was removed and new trees were carefully selected to replace trees that were taken down. Planting took place in the autumn of 2016. By springtime of 2017, community members from the Meeting and the school marveled at the stunning flowering tree display and interesting foliage on the new specimens. Longterm resident trees had well maintained grounds and new specimen companions to grow along with.
As a community of learners, students helped to plan the Westfield Friends Tree Walk, which was completed and dedicated May 2017. Reflecting on the Quaker SPICES (simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality and stewardship) and developing queries that asked Westfield Friends School students to delve into their relationship with trees and responsibilities to our environment, third through sixth grade students became more aware of the natural world in which they live, learn, work, and play. They gained a deeper appreciation for the stately and mature trees on the campus of their school.
Students reflected on, wrote about and discussed:
Simplicity: What can we do to grow our appreciation for the natural world?
Peace: Are there ways to play and work near trees that will do no harm? How can we respect a tree’s right to a peaceful existence?
Integrity: When we think of trees, are we aware of our impact on them or do we mainly think of what they can do for us?
Community: Can we think of ways in which trees depend on each other and function in communal ways? How can we show our appreciation for the benefits we are given from the trees in our community?
Equality: How can we help trees to have a voice? What can we do that will ensure the longevity of our trees?
Stewardship: What role do we play in caring for the earth? Is our stewardship a one time event, or can it be part of our every day lives?
Our yearlong focus on trees found us comparing how our school and Meeting community mirrors the wooded grounds of our campus. Our strength as a community comes from the mutual dependence on each other and it gains strength from different perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences. The student groups involved in this project learned and benefited from working with, communicating with, and depending on multi-aged peers. Sharing knowledge and insights with friends encouraged group processes, developed confidence and leadership skills, and had a profoundly lasting effect on our learning community.