School's Arbor Day project helps plant seed of understanding, forest officials say

As she watched Dariel Gonzalez jump up and down on a shovel, 10-year-old Ariana Martinez couldn't help but smile.

 Brittini Salyer, 10, left, and Macy Mahanke, 9, use teamwork as they dig a hole for one of 10 slash pines donated to Lely Elementary School by the Florida Division of Forestry for Arbor Day.

Photo by JASON EASTERLY

Brittini Salyer, 10, left, and Macy Mahanke, 9, use teamwork as they dig a hole for one of 10 slash pines donated to Lely Elementary School by the Florida Division of Forestry for Arbor Day.

"It's fantastic," she said of the work she and Gonzalez were doing. "You get dirty and help the community."

The students, who are part of Allyson Dunn's fourth-grade class at Lely Elementary School, were planting 10 trees at the school in honor of Florida Arbor Day.

The Florida Division of Forestry donated 10 South Florida slash pine trees to the school and let Dunn's students plant them along the property line.

"We want them to learn and understand the value of trees," Senior Forest Ranger Wendell Vaught said. "With all of the development in Florida, the native trees are disappearing. The trees we are planting are native to Florida. And, when they graduate, they can come back and the trees will still be here."

It was appropriate that the state Division of Forestry came to Lely Elementary School, Dunn said.

"These kids have watched (construction) take down the trees," she said, looking beyond the Lely property line at a neighborhood under construction. "This won't replace all of them, but it is a start. They will remember this."

Arbor Day is a nationally celebrated observance that encourages tree planting and care, according to the National Arbor Day Foundation. The holiday was founded by J. Sterling Morton in Nebraska in 1872. National Arbor Day is celebrated each year on the last Friday in April, but each state has its own Arbor Day. Friday was Florida's celebration.

Vaught and forest ranger Larry Klein talked to the students about Arbor Day and showed them how to plant the trees before turning the students loose with their own trees and shovels.

Jeffrey Gallucci, 10, already was a pro at planting trees, having planted four before his class put their trees in the ground Friday. He said there was a basic rule to follow.

"My dad taught me if you plant it low, it won't grow and if you plant it high, it will die," he said.

In addition to planting the trees, the children received a flag that said, "Trees: A joy forever."

"Everybody is part of the forest today," Vaught told the children as they worked. "You are the beginning of the forest."

Now that the trees are planted, Dunn said the students will have to take care of them, keeping them watered so the trees will grow.

"This was something they needed. They have worked so hard cramming information into their brains for the (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test)," Dunn said. "It's just a great hands-on activity."

Giovanni Sanchez, 10, said the students were doing more than getting a hands-on activity.

"We are helping Mother Nature," he said. "We are putting more oxygen into the air."

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