Charlie Hargroves enthusiasm for planting trees is infectious as he speaks to students at Avonworth Elementary in Ohio Township. He’s there to introduce the One Tree Per Child program for the first time in America.
As he challenges the kids with tree questions, the adults in the audience are spellbound as precocious 9-year-old Lyla Sebeck says, “Trees are like a calendar that has its own system of recognizing when the leaves were supposed to turn brown and fall off and the seeds are supposed to grow, that makes the tree awesome.”
Hargroves, from Adelaide, Australia, calls himself “ambassador at large” for the organization, which with the addition of this school now operates in nine countries. The only thing required of the school is to provide the opportunity for every student who attends to plant a tree.
“From that you can create all sorts of things,” he says. “Different schools go in different directions.”
Every third grader will get a chance to plant a tree and he hopes this is just the beginning for the program in the country.
“We want to see every school in the United States to give every student a the opportunity to plant a tree,” he says. “To be more than a couple photos, a banner, but something that actually creates a live program that evolves like nature does into all sorts of unpredictable things.”
And why here? Without hesitation, he says, “Isabela.”
He’s referring to Isabela Angelelli, a pediatrician from Ben Avon, originally from Columbia, who is dedicated to improving the environment though the program.
“I realized one the of the most important things a human being can do is plant a tree,” she says.
Angelelli met Hargroves at a sustainability conference in Spain and knew she had to get One Tree Per Child started here.
“This is my life passion, this is what I need to do,” she says. “If we care about us as a species and our environment, we need to be planting trees.”
She’s spent months getting the program going with support from the community. People have offered help with funding and space for planting.
Seeing how people are moved by trees helps reveal the “pure human being that’s inside everyone,” she says.
She’s hoping to expand the program first in the Avonworth school district, then through the entire county and beyond. “Any school can start doing this. I want everyone to be part of this.”
More than 100 third graders watched as two pawpaw trees were planted and waited in line to help place dirt back in the planting hole.
“I want the children to be inspired,” Angelelli says of the program, “to care and connect with the environment and know how important it is for us to give back to nature.”
District superintendent Thomas Ralston was handing out copies of “If We Were To Plant A Tree” to each student as they walked by the newly planted trees.
“I really want them to understand that they are stewards of the environment,” he says. “They’re going to live in this world for a long time; that’s a place they’ve got to take care of.”
Tree Pittsburgh’s community education coordinator Joe Stavish, who finished the planting, says, “All these third grade students, there’s 134 of them, will be planting their own tree in the spring time.”
There will be a wide range of species planted, mostly on school grounds, but Allegheny County Parks might get some too. Stavish hopes the students will share the fun and excitement they experienced today with family and friends.
“We might see a new tree movement with elementary students, which is great,” he says.
Allegheny County District One Councilman Tom Baker has worked for months with Angelelli, connecting her with other districts and helping move the project along. “I think when these third graders look back they’ll think about it as a special day,” he says. “They got to be part of history today.”
This story showcases interesting trees to plant in the landscape.
Doug Oster is editor of Everybody Gardens, a website operated by 535Media, LLC. Reach him at 412-965-3278 or firstname.lastname@example.org. See other stories, videos, blogs, tips and more at everybodygardens.com.
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