Franklin students learn tree conservation, safety at Arbor Week event
By Anthony King | SDUN Editor
Several Benjamin Franklin Elementary School students celebrated California Arbor Week by planting 15 trees around the school’s perimeter in Kensington with the help of Urban Corps of San Diego County and Councilmember Marti Emerald.
Held Tuesday, March 12, the event brought together Franklin faculty, representatives from San Diego Gas & Electric and several community groups. Cindy Marten, the new San Diego Unified School District superintendent, was also present.
“It all started, of course, with a desire to help the kids,” Emerald said before taking a group of 15 ASB students to plant the first tree with the help of Urban Corps volunteers. The first four trees planted lined Copeland Avenue, facing the front of the school.
“We want more trees, we want more shade [and] we want a more beautiful community,” she said.
A special Watering Club at the school will care for the trees, along with the Garden Angels of Kensington, a volunteer resident group that has been tending sidewalk tree plots on Adams Avenue.
Emerald said the Franklin project began with the efforts of Dixie Blake, a Franklin volunteer with a personal connection to the school.
“Her sons went to this school many years ago,” Emerald said, “and she remembers the way Franklin was when her kids were growing up here. … She has made it her life’s mission now, along with all her friends here in the neighborhood, to restore Franklin to its greatness.”
Blake has been volunteering at the school for nine years, building a core group of 40 tutors who give their time to help students and faculty. Focusing on nature and the environment, the volunteers have put in a vegetable garden at the school, as well as a hummingbird and butterfly habitat.
“The idea of planting the trees came to mind about four years ago,” Blake said. “There must have been trees in all those spaces at some point, but from the outside it looked bare.”
Franklin Elementary Principal R. Akoni Derige said he hoped to continue the tradition year after year, and felt it was a great opportunity for the students to learn about the importance of caring for trees.
The sentiment is at the heart of Blake’s mission.
“They are happy and proud of these new trees, and will be keeping them watered during the rest of the school year,” Blake said. “There are so many learning opportunities with the gardens, and now the trees.”
To help facilitate learning, Miss Smarty Plants of the Water Conservation Garden and representatives from Urban Corps came to the school during a morning assembly to speak to students about why trees are important, as well as safety regarding trees and power lines.
“There are about five fatal electrocutions a year, and we really want to get that number down. This is one of the ways that we educate the youth,” said Urban Corps representative Katheryn Ramirez.
One interactive activity Ramirez did with the students was a “City Planning” hands-on exercise using Legos to build a map of their school, including where to place trees in regards to power lines. The activity is part of the nonprofit’s Tree Smart Program.
“They seemed to really, really like it,” Ramirez said. “We talked all about different types of trees they might see around their community [and] they had a lot of questions, which was really nice.”
Urban Corps has been at the forefront of planting trees for San Diego since 2002, planting more than 14,000 street trees while educating youth at their charter school and through events like the one at Franklin. Their mission is to both provide job training as well as educational opportunities to young adults.
“There has been such a tremendous response from the students and excitement from the faculty,” Blake said. “Everyone is working so hard each day on their schoolwork, it’s nice to have something fun going on.”
The results of the March 12 event will be felt beyond the end of Arbor Week, or even National Arbor Day in April. Both Emerald and Blake said the trees will be something the children can look back on with pride.
“As Marti Emerald pointed out, those trees will be there in the future and the students will have done something to help the environment,” Blake said. “After they leave … they can come back and see them to remind them of their time at Franklin.”