Ad-Express and Daily Iowegian, Centerville, IA

April 30, 2013

Students work to improve school grounds with tree plantings

By Krystal Fowler Lifestyle Editor
The Daily Iowegian

---- — Friday morning several groups of students and volunteers came together to make a positive change on the Centerville High School campus.

The group planted nine trees the school was able to purchase with a $1,000 grant from the DNR Trees for Kids/Teens program. Laura Wagner with the DNR Forestry Bureau, who coordinates the grant program across the state was on hand to teach the students how to plant the trees and about each species being planted.

The project all started in the school system's AmeriCorp program, which received a flyer about the DNR grant program. According to Michele Bellemare, who works with the Lakeview AmeriCorp program, Mallory Hatfield, who also works in the Lakeview program had come up with the idea of doing a tree planting project. When Bellemare learned about the DNR program, she saw a way to make the idea a reality.

"We just want to give back to our community," said Bellemare. "This is a great way to do it."

Several of the AmeriCorp coordinators, including Bellemare, Hatfield, Margaret Repasz and Lisa McClure at the high school, LorRae Groff at the junior high and Brandie Lawson, also at Lakeview worked together on the project, either in the grant writing project or volunteering to help plant trees.

Besides AmeriCorp coordinators and students, teacher Elizabeth Gaskins and her Horticulture II class members were also involved in the planting, as well as several other volunteers from the community.

They worked with Wagner at the DNR, who okayed the grant for CHS. She also did a site visit to help determine what types of trees should be planted and where they would go.

According to Wagner, the program requires that students be involved in the plantings and that there be an educational component to the program.

The school bought nine trees with their grant, two Pin Oaks, a Burr Oak, two Red Maples, a Serviceberry, a Japanese Lilac and an Eastern Red Bud. All of the trees were planted behind the high school. The plan is for them to provide shade to several areas including walkways, sidewalks and the air conditioning unit, which will actually help increase energy efficiency at the school. Some of trees will also be incorporated into an outside area that will eventually have picnic tables and be available for lunch breaks or also for use as an outdoor classroom space. For now though, the trees are still young.

The Trees for Kids/Teens program gives away grants in the fall and spring each year. Wagner said there are usually between 40 to 60 grants of up to $5,000 given out in total each year. She said several of the state's utility companies sponsor the grant. One reason for that is that planting trees can definitely make a building more energy efficient. According to Wagner planting trees on the east and west sides of buildings can increase energy efficiency up to 20 percent.

However, that is not the only benefit to having trees around. Wagner said studies have shown being able to see or be near a tree filled environment can help with concentration and to lower aggression and cortisone levels in the body, as well as helping people with many ailments including diabetes, ADHD, hypertension, asthma, obesity and Alzheimer's.

Any school is eligible to apply for the grant as well as other non-profits and cities. The trees just have to be planted in a public space, as well as having the educational component and student involvement during the plantings. Groups can apply each year and projects can range from a small one, such as Centerville High School's up to a project planting hundreds of trees at a time.

According to Bellemare, there is definite interest in participating again. She said she received a lot of help in getting the project off the ground from Wagner, the other AmeriCorp coordinators and Alex Lind at Centerville Greenhouses, as well as many others when writing the grant and in learning about the best trees to plant.

"We just want the kids to know they can do this," said Bellemare.

She hopes the experience will stay with the students involved as they become adults and they will be energized to help improve their communities and realize they can look for grants such as the DNR's to help make the improvements they are inspired to attempt.