In Vancouver, Washington, there is an annual tree planting season, taking up most of the local rainy winter. It is city-wide and extensive, but perhaps the most valuable part of the project is the partnerships that form between the city’s Urban Forestry Program and local schools. The city provides trees and guidance, while the school provides land and volunteers, along with a commitment to maintain the trees as they grow.
The project is good for all schools involved on so many levels. Students take a role in the development of their own communities, helping with planning, planting, and upkeep. Teachers can take advantage of the project to teach about the biology of trees and their importance in both urban and natural environments. The trees themselves help the school by muffling neighborhood sounds and regulating the ambient temperature. And the schools, many of which are major landholders in their communities, contribute to the general health of the city by adding what the UFP calls the Urban Canopy. More trees overall means less runoff and erosion and cleaner, clearer air.
Vancouver’s not the first city to deploy a project like this (San Francisco is another notable location), but it should be much more widespread. A study done in 2014 in Boston suggested that schools set in greener environments show a higher average proficiency in English and math. Another study, this one using data from London, indicated that people living on greener streets regardless of age and income were less likely to require antidepressants. With organizations like the National Wildlife Federation ready to donate native trees to schools, such improvements could potentially be in reach of any school, at any budget, so long as there is community support and land for planting. Just imagine schools across the country, in all kinds of city, as green havens, as restful as parks. Picture today’s students looking out classroom windows into foliage they had a hand in creating. Picture them coming to their 20-year class reunions and seeing the proud spreading canopies of the trees they planted with their own hands.