On Monday morning, gray skies and muddy fields didn’t stop the students and teachers of Wiggin Street Elementary School from getting their hands dirty to celebrate Arbor Day — a day that encourages the planting of trees — at the Village Community Center.
Since 2008, when Gambier became a Tree City USA, a title awarded by the Arbor Day Foundation to communities that foster urban tree canopies, students from Wiggin Street Elementary School began a tradition of planting at least one tree each year to celebrate the holiday and to learn more about the trees around the Village.
This year, kindergarteners through fifth graders walked down the Hill to be greeted by Gambier’s Mayor Kachen Kimmell and Tree Commission Chair Jerry Kelly ’96. To kick off the day, the mayor gave students a brief history of Arbor Day, explaining why it is celebrated in Gambier, before moving outside for the highly anticipated activity of the morning: the annual tree planting.
During the eleventh year of celebrating the tradition, students planted two sycamores and three persimmon trees in the Gambier Community Park. With the resources provided through membership with Tree City USA, Kelly worked with a correspondent at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to select species that would help diversify the Village’s tree population.
“A big part of what we’re trying to do with the tree commission is build the diversity of the tree stock in the Village,” he said. “[It’s important that] we introduce other varieties of trees like the sycamore, like some of the smaller fruit trees we are planting, to try to take into account what the experts are saying about climate change and its effects on trees.”
After students gave Gambier’s newest additions homes in the soil, Mayor Kimmell and Kelly took students on a tour of the trees they had planted two years ago to see how well they were growing.
Students paused between running from one tree to the next so they could hear Kelly give a brief biography of each dawn redwood and ask students about their opinions on the trees’ wellbeing.
Students examined each tree’s leaves and height to assess their overall condition. For the trees that looked less healthy than others, students suggested more frequent pruning, increased watering or more fertilizer to ensure that the trees will stand for years to come.
Third grade teacher Eileen Eilbacher found the excursion to be a good opportunity to take the classroom outdoors. “All of our curriculum is so heavy on natural resources and appreciation of nature,” she said, as she watched her students play on the Community Park playground after the celebration. “I really try to instill the values of caring for our environment.”
One of the aims of student participation is to connect what they learn in the classroom to the community in which they live. “It’s a bit of a biology lesson. We talk to them about how to plant the trees,” Mayor Kimmell said. “We try to encourage them to come back in 30 years to visit their parents and to see what they planted.”