Tree project blossoms into statewide award

MIDDLEBURY — It began as a 2009 Arbor Day assignment during which Mary Hogan Elementary School fourth-graders led an effort to plant 16 new trees on school grounds.
But it was as assignment that blossomed into an educational, community-wide endeavor and culminated last week in the young students receiving a statewide award for their efforts, presented to them at the Vermont Statehouse on Jan. 20 by fellow Middlebury resident Gov. James Douglas.
“It was really quite an honor,” said Mary Hogan Elementary teacher Vickie Greenhouse, whose class received the 2009 “Youth/Student Award” at a special celebration hosted by the Vermont Urban and Community Forestry Council, in partnership with the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation.
The Mary Hogan Elementary tree planting project took root last spring, thanks in large part to the organizational efforts of Ruth Hardy, a parent of two Mary Hogan students. Using donated money, as well as dollars already existing in an ID-4 “garden fund,” the school bought 15 trees (with another donated). Species included sugar maples, elms, three kinds of oaks, crabapples and sycamores.
Students, parents, school officials and community members all pitched in their time to plant the trees, which mostly stand in the front of the Mary Hogan Elementary building.
It was a project that evolved into more than working the soil; students also used their minds, studying up on trees and their ecological benefits. They wrote articles about trees in their school newsletter.
It proved such a successful project that Hardy nominated the children for the tree stewardship award they received last Wednesday. She, Greenhouse and the children were ecstatic when they learned the class had won.
“It was very exciting,” she said.
The class raised the money to make the trip to Montpelier, where they participated in the awards ceremony, had a meal and toured the Statehouse. They received an impressive wooden plaque, made, coincidentally, at Middlebury-based Maple Landmark Woodcraft.
“We were able to put (the tree planting project) together so that it was a meaningful experience that will stay with them for quite awhile,” Greenhouse said.
The students are still buzzing about it.
“It was really fun going to the Statehouse,” said student Greta Hardy-Mittell. “It was also fun planting these trees, because a lot of people got together and planted them.”
The trees are now on the smallish side, but they will grow considerably, eventually providing a long-term reminder of the project to the children as they, themselves, grown into adulthood.
“It was very fun, because I got to put a tree in the ground and put the dirt around it,” said student Spencer Smith.

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