Last September Isabela Angelelli stood proudly outside Avonworth Elementary School in Ross as she helped launch the first location of One Tree Per Child in the country. The Australian-based organization helps school children plant trees, operating in nine countries. The only thing required of the school is to provide the opportunity for every student who attends to plant a tree.
Two paw paw trees were planted that day, symbolizing the start of the program, and Angelelli talked about the importance of founding the local chapter.
“I realized one of the most important things a human being can do is plant a tree,” she says. “This is my life passion; this is what I need to do. If we care about us as a species and our environment, we need to be planting trees.”
Last spring 134 more trees were planted by third graders from the school, there was a tree planting event at Greenfield Elementary in Pittsburgh and a couple of weeks ago students from Ross Elementary turned out in force to help reforest Sangree Park. The ash trees that once towered over the park have been ravaged by the invasive emerald ash borer. The few remaining ashes are expected to die in the next few years.
On this morning, Angelelli is all smiles watching as Joe Stavish, community education coordinator for Tree Pittsburgh, demonstrated the right way to plant a tree for the kids.
“We know students that have access to nature do better in school,” he says. “It’s important to get them out of the classroom, get their hands dirty, plant some trees.”
It’s not just the students who are learning something though. Ross Elementary principal Jason Beall got a great tip about keeping mulch away from the trunk of trees. He sees this outdoor classroom teaching a great lesson to the kids.
“I think we all live in this world, and we have to be good stewards of our environment,” he says.
Stavish was fighting off a cold, so he got a hand in explaining the best way to plant from Jake Milofsky, who works as director of tree care and reforestation. They are explaining why the native paw paw and persimmon trees are a perfect choice for the park.
“So nobody knows what that is,” Stavish says of the paw paw. “It’s an edible fruit tree. We’re trying to get people excited about some of these native fruit trees.”
The tree produces a green fruit about the size of a potato, which ripens to yellow late in the season.
“It gets a fruit that sort of tastes between a banana and a mango,” Stavish says. “It’s sort of like a custard pudding when you eat it. It’s a wonderful treat to collect in the fall.”
Lexi Spivak, 11, watches intently as the pair plant the tree and is anxious to get her own tree planted.
“It helps nature a lot,” she says with a smile. “The trees will help the water in the creek.
“They help shade it in the summer, too,” she adds.
As groups of parents, volunteers and students fanned out into the park to plant, Angelelli is working with them to get the trees in the ground.
“It’s critical to the park that we help restore it,” she says after planting one of many trees.
She’s working to add 11 more schools, six within the Pittsburgh school system with support from the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, Tree Pittsburgh, City Park Rangers and the city forestry division. Looking over the work in progress, she adds, “It’s just a lot of joy. Every single planting day has been amazing and powerful, there’s a lot of happiness. Kids have fun, contact with nature makes you feel alive.”
Angelelli’s fantasy as director and founder of One Tree Per Child Pittsburgh is to inspire enough people that one day millions of kids will plant trees.
“I want the world to open their eyes and see how much this is needed,” she says.
Bright sun streams through the canopy as the planting continues.
“These are our future generations and we want to inspire them to care about the environment,” Angelelli says. “It’s just wonderful to give them the opportunity to learn and to connect with nature.”
Doug Oster is editor of Everybody Gardens, a website operated by 535Media, LLC. Reach him at 412-965-3278 or email@example.com. See other stories, videos, blogs, tips and more at everybodygardens.com.