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Volume 15, Issue 18 ~ May 3 - May 9, 2007

Planting a Young Forest

Students learn to become tree detectives in their own yards

by Margaret Tearman, Bay Weekly staff writer

with Judy Mansfield’s Mt. Harmony School second graders

Judy Mansfield’s second grade class held hands. Inside their circle, a tall Native American man held a smoking bundle of sage as he blessed them for what they were about to do: Plant trees at Mt. Harmony Elementary School in Owings.

Once upon a time there was a tree.

A beautiful apple tree.

It used to be climbed on all the time.

But they cut off the branches.

The branches grew back.

One day a man called Mr. Ybarra did a sacred smudge.

The first year a buck leaped across the playground where he did the smudge.

The second a butterfly — well not just a plain one, a beautiful one —

Flew across the playground.

Then another year a hawk flew in circles, around and around he goes.

Mr. Ybarra was playing the flute.

This year … nobody knows.

–Lindsey Hobbs

This year’s blessing was Albert Ybarra’s fifth at the Calvert elementary school.

Patrick Concannon

In the beginning, his son Diego was a Mansfield student. Ybarra and his family were new to Chesapeake Country and seeking to put down roots. In his previous life in California, Ybarra worked with city kids, taking them into the mountains to learn about the environment. He hoped to find a similar calling in Calvert.

He found a like-minded elementary school teacher, Judy Mansfield. Together, Ybarra and Mansfield developed a planting project to teach youngsters why and how to protect their world.

“We forget we’re a part of the earth,” says Ybarra. “When we get older, we just live on top of it. This project helps the kids understand their natural connection to the earth and the importance of taking care of it.”

Trees are here.

Trees are there.

Trees are everywhere!

Do you know that trees are a natural resource?

Yes, trees are a natural resource.

If you cut one down,

You plant one again.

–Alyssa Hawkins

Mansfield loves Chesapeake Bay and worries about its health. “I grew up with a summer home in Solomons,” Mansfield said. “The Bay was our swimming pool. We used Drum Point Lighthouse as our diving board.”

Mansfield, now a year-round resident of Breezy Point, brings her love for the Bay into her classroom. “In the second grade, we teach natural, human and capital resources,” Mansfield says. “I stretch natural resources out over the entire school year.”

Mansfield’s students start off learning about water.

“I teach them water needs to be conserved and protected,” she says. “From there, we go into the problem of erosion and the importance of trees and Bay grasses in keeping our environment healthy.”

Help us and nature too. Don’t cover the Bay grasses, please.

Please don’t pick the cat-tails, please, please.

Plant trees.

Help trees.

Care for Trees.

Please, please, please.

Thank you.

–Brianna McCormick

Alex Zimmerman

With the enthusiastic support of school principal Anthony Navarro, Mansfield and Ybarra got the youngsters out of the classroom and put shovels into their hands.

“Kids are sponges,” says Mansfield. “The more hands-on, the more outdoors, the better they learn.”

In 2002, The Mt. Harmony Student Forest was born. Today the forest is growing strong with pin oaks, maples, poplars and native dogwoods. Four years ago, the project was expanded to include rain gardens the students planted to control erosion at gutter downspouts.

“We had a $400 grant the first year, and we could only afford three trees,” recalls Ybarra. “So Judy and I chipped in for the fourth tree and 10 bags of mulch.”

This year, the school won a $1,000 grant from the Calvert Environmental Trust for Youth. Kelly’s Nursery in Dunkirk matched the grant and delivered six trees, 150 perennials for the rain gardens and mulch for the project. The forest now holds 20 trees, chosen for different textures, seasonal color and food and shelter for wildlife.

“The kids really get it,” says Ybarra. “They become tree detectives in their own yards.”

Trees can be tall.

Trees can be small.

Trees can be any size.

Trees can be hurt.

Do you like trees? I do!

I climb trees.

Do you?

–Michael K.

This year Diego Ybarra, now a student at Windy Hill Middle School, returned to help his father with the ceremony. Parents joined in as volunteer labor. Mansfield opened her classroom door, and giggling second graders gathered on the muddy field, clutching their poems, essays and drawings created as part of their schoolwork. 

The youngsters, parents and teacher circled around Ybarra as he lighted a bunch of sage brought east from his native west. His grandfather was a medicine Man in Arizona’s Yaqui tribe. All eyes were on Ybarra as he passed from student to student, using a feather to gently blow the sweet sage smoke in their direction with a blessing:

Albert Ybarra holds a smoking bundle of sage during a blessing before the tree planting at Mt. Harmony Elementary School in Owings.

In the work that we do today, we recall that it is with the Spirit-Head-Mind and Body that we gather to plant these trees.

What holds us together is the Spirit of who we are. All of these things define who we are, where we come from and where we go from here.

Our young ones have the task and burden of our hopes and dreams and visions to carry forward good works.

In the act of giving back these trees to our earth mother, we ask the Great Spirit to bless our lives, and together we give our word and promise to care for these trees — and all living things.

We pray that we will leave this special place with renewed spirit, strength and new friendships.

In turn, the students recited their poem or essay or proudly described their drawing to their circle partners. Then the fun began as the trees were hoisted into place. Little hands filled the holes with soil, and little feet tamped the loose soil. Each tree gets a circle of mulch before the lunch bell rang.

Once upon a time there was a mama tree who had a baby tree. They were very happy because they had lots of tree friends. But one day some careless people cut down all the trees except for mama and baby tree! But luckily, a sweet girl named Alyssa White planted a few trees. She told her friends to tell their friends to plant trees. So they did. And they all lived happily ever after.

The End

–Alyssa White

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