Fairfield Schools "Grow" Outdoor Learning Centers by Planting Trees
Posted: 04/12/2011

DES MOINES - Fairfield Middle School and Washington Elementary are utilizing funding from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources' Trees For Kids grant to plant 25 trees.

At Washington Elementary, the planting will provide aesthetic value, playground shade, natural resource conversation and an outdoor learning center.

This area, as it matures, will become a shaded grove, not only for playground use, but as an outdoor classroom setting for reading, art and other curriculum related activities. The current plan will allow for 13 plantings which will include serviceberry, bur oak, Norway spruce, eastern redbud and bald cypress.

At Fairfield Middle School (FMS) the planting will provide an outdoor learning center for the middle school science classes and related curriculums. The grove of 12 apple trees consisting of Jonathan, red delicious, golden delicious and honeycrisp will provide an outdoor classroom for various classes.

Science class activities will include proper planting techniques, water cycle, soil study, grafting, pollination, pruning, mulching, data collection and local produce production. This outdoor classroom along with the FMS raingarden and prairie projects will provide hands on learning environments. After the trees start bearing fruit, it is the intent to use the apples harvested in the school nutrition program.

"FCSD does participate in the farm to school program and this would be an excellent opportunity to expand the 'locally produced' concept, involving students in all aspects from pruning to harvest," said Fred McElwee, Fairfield CSD director of auxiliary services. Students will utilize various curriculums during this project. Math, geometry, geography/mapping will be used in the site layout/placement of the trees.

"On a more specific level, trees can be the mechanism through which we deliver knowledge and skills of the water cycle, the food chain, age appropriate botany, and the energy cycle. Teachers will have a real-world lab right outside their classrooms," McElwee said.

Proper planting technique demonstrations will be provided by the district groundskeeper, and the students will dig the holes, prepare the soil, and actively be involved in the planting. At both schools, students will directly be involved in care and maintenance of the trees by mulching, watering and monitoring of staking on an as needed basis. Students will then monitor the health of the trees.

Trees for Kids and Trees for Teens are tree education and planting programs targeted to Iowa's elementary and secondary school students. The goal of this program is to educate students about the value of trees and to encourage tree planting projects at schools and other public areas around the state.

"Trees provide us with multitude of benefits and are particularly beneficial to the mental development of youth. Studies have shown that children with access to green spaces score higher on tests of concentration and self-discipline. Additionally, Attention Deficit Disorder symptoms are relieved in some children after spending time in green spaces," said Emma Bruemmer, state urban forester with the Iowa DNR.

Trees for Kids/Trees for Teens provides conservation education curriculum and a competitive grant that awards between $1,000 and $5,000 to qualified tree planting projects on school grounds or publicly owned property. Grant applications are available semiannually, in the spring and fall of each year, and more than 20 grants are awarded each season.

If you know of a school in need of trees, contact Laura Wagner at the Iowa DNR Forestry Bureau at 515-281-6749 for more information about how to apply for the grant.

This unique program is sponsored by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources - Bureau of Forestry, MidAmerican Energy, Black Hills Energy, Alliant Energy, Trees Forever, Iowa Tree Farm Committee, Iowa Woodland Owners Association, Iowa Bankers Association, and Iowa Landscape and Nursery Association.