Students Take to the Trees

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trees breathe life into the bronxOn Saturday, April 28th, Sustainable South Bronx partnered with high school students from Fieldston Ethical Culture School to host Hooray for Creativi-tree! a community celebration of city trees.  The April event was the culmination of a joint program between SSBx’s Education Department and Fieldston’s City Semester program.

Fieldston’s City Semester program immerses high school juniors and seniors in place-based, experiential learning focused on the Bronx. Students learn about the history, politics, culture, and environment of the borough while working directly with community groups, city officials, and local nonprofit organizations to affect change in the Bronx.

As one component of their semester-long program, the City Semester students joined forces with SSBx to plan the construction of new tree guards in Hunts Point. Tree guards, which are found throughout other neighborhoods in New York City, protect the beds around street trees. They help preserve the integrity of the roots while also discouraging littering around trees, and preventing dogs from using trees as pee pads.  In a neighborhood like Hunts Point, with thousands of trucks thundering down the street each day, trees are particularly vulnerable to weakened roots and to being knocked down. The poor air quality in Hunts Point also decreases the trees’ vitality, making them more susceptible to soil contaminants.

For this project, the Fieldston students had to think like city planners. They surveyed the neighborhood to identify the best street on which to install the tree guards, settling on Bryant Avenue, a residential street that is also home to Hyde Middle School and M.S. 424. Under the guidance of SSBx Greenway Steward Amilcar Laboy, the students then used power saws and drills to cut and assemble four-foot by six-foot metal and wood frames to protect the trees.

Arbor-Day-chalk-drawingThe high schoolers also got younger students from the Hunts Point community involved. “It was totally their decision to reach out to M.S. 424,” says Nina Sander, Director of Education at SSBx. “They didn’t want to be ‘outsiders’ making decisions for the community; they wanted to work withthe community to create something meaningful and beautiful for the neighborhood.” They decided to team up with M.S. 424 students to create eye-catching signs that they could hang on the new tree guards.

The two schools held brainstorming sessions to come up with inspiring, motivating slogans about the value of trees for urban communities. They also collaborated to plan the Hooray for Creativiti-tree Arbor Day event. The event, which was held in the schoolyard of MS 424, included music, food, face painting, and tree-themed crafts.  Community members came out to help students paint the tree guard signs, stopping to sample the snacks prepared by Bosco Catering.

At the end of the day, nine sturdy new tree guards lined Bryant Avenue in front of the school. “The real outcome for the students and for everyone involved was in the partnerships that were formed,” says Sander. “The students learned that when diverse groups come together to work on a project, it sparks new ideas and new opportunities. Small projects like this inspire bigger projects. We’re already talking about what we can do next year.”