Riverview STEM Academy: New Voices at the Table
As told by: Community Forester Matt Buland
June 28, 2016
Every Community Shade project starts with who, when, what,
where and why. A great deal of thought
goes into who needs to be at our initial meeting. When we work with schools, that group usually
consists of a school district rep, a maintenance rep, and onsite representation
often including the principal, a teacher and/or a parent volunteer.
My first meeting with Riverview STEM Academy, an elementary
school in Rancho Cordova, was quite different.
I shook hands with Principal Tony Peterson and before we got too far
into the introductions he said, “let’s head to the classroom.”
“Classroom?”, I thought to myself. “Is he expecting a Presentation?” Fear swept over me, a bead of sweat gathered
and my heart raced as if I was running on foot against Secratariat in the
Kentucky Derby. To my relief Principal
Tony went inside the classroom and I was not expected to follow. Soon, three bright, shining, and smiling 5th
graders with a flood of questions no 30 minute meeting could come close to
Ellie, Jackson and Jazmine (the obvious stakeholders not
typically invited to the party), Principal Tony and I looked out at that space
that seems to exist at every school in Sacramento and maybe the world. That patch of no man’s land where the molten asphalt
playground meets the patchy green and brown turf leading to the ballfields. With a chance to fix this glaring problem, in
one school at least, I activated full Community Forester mode and began to go
over the possibilities.
As all good stakeholders should be, the students were
engaged, asked great questions and were involved in each and every decision
made that day. Out of this meeting came
three big areas of importance; site layout, tree protection and education.
It was clear the students approached this project with the
understanding that this was their legacy.
Something tangible they could leave for the younger current and future
students before they jumped into the wild world of middle school. They described the type of activity and play that
is most common on the playground and offered the suggestion to add a mini-grove
of smaller trees to the planned row of shade trees so the younger students could
better enjoy their favorite game of hide and seek. A novel concept my adult brain just never
would have thought of.
The students were adamant about caring and protecting the trees
once they were in the ground. Plans for
tree care and maintenance, especially during the summer, were discussed. They expressed great concern that these trees
in the middle of prime play area, could be accidentally damaged. Furthermore, they were painfully aware of the
issue of vandalism as a few trees had been damaged on their campus in the recent
past. Principal Tony suggested a competition
to create plans for the best protective tree stake design to ensure the trees
would be able to grow strong and extra shady. This created great excitement and energy, and in the end three students
were chosen and received awards for their creativity, clarity and engineering acumen.
It was decided that all students would have a hand in this
project so everyone could take part in bettering their school, would be more
aware and caring towards the trees, and would learn the many benefits trees
provide. Yet the 5th graders
were keenly aware of the differences in abilities between 5th
graders and Kindergarteners and the challenges that created. It was clear to all that education would be
fundamentally important in overcoming these challenges and that it would be
best that students deliver that education. What better way to learn than from your peers?
With their limited planting experience a demonstration
planting and training was in order. I
arrived with tools and a nice healthy Zelkova tree and ran into a wall of ipads
and cameras as if I was about to conduct a press conference on the steps of
city hall. It was
explained that every 4th grader at Riverview learns how to film, edit
and produce videos. With my planting guidance
and the input of our directors in training we planted the Zelkova. The students learned how to successfully
plant a tree, captured the moment and created an amazing video which they, with
the help of their fellow 5th grade classmates, shared and taught to
the rest of the school.
On planting day over 100 students came out to plant 15
beautiful shade trees. They smiled, they
learned and it was clear they would carry that experience with them
forever. The 5th grade,
through their representation from beginning to end, energetically took on the
roles of designers, organizers, educators and leaders and learned valuable skills
beyond simply planting a tree and gained confidence they will carry as they
progress through life. I learned more
than this blog could reasonably contain but most importantly that there
is so much more than just getting a tree in the ground. What an amazing experience! Thank you Riverview STEM Academy.