Youth Plantings Are Back!

Cascade Education Corps leads plantings with Fowler Middle School students

You can always hear eighth graders coming. On a clear day at Fowler Middle School in Tigard, Cascade Education Corps members eagerly awaited leading their first planting of the season. The shovels stood in a neat circle, the trees were placed where they needed to be planted, and with an excitement you could hear before you saw it, the students from Ms. Scheller’s science class arrived to do the work.

Friends of Trees has been working with kindergarten-through-eighth graders for over twenty years. This programming has taken different forms, starting with the “School Trees Program” in the late nineties. Since 2009, much of our youth engagement has been with our Green Space program. It was put on pause because of the pandemic, but with this planting at Fowler Middle, K-8 plantings are officially back! 

The CEC are all high school students following an alternative path to graduation by working on hands-on environmental projects, gaining skills and knowledge that can lead to career opportunities. There were five CEC members here today with their crew leader, Michelle. By this point in the season, they were already planting experts ready to share their knowledge with the Fowler students.

“This can be a really meaningful experience for these students,” Michelle said to the crew before the eighth graders arrive. Kaled, one of the CEC members, knew this firsthand. He was a Fowler Middle School student himself and fondly remembers when he planted trees with the CEC.

The planting was at Dirksen Nature Park, conveniently adjacent to Fowler’s campus. After the students arrived, everyone introduced themselves, and talked about why planting native trees is important. Thinking big picture, one student immediately shouted, “climate change!” Thinking locally, Meng Vue, a Friends of Trees Green Space Specialist, talked with the students about how these plants would slow erosion and stabilize the stream that runs between the park and their school.

Then the kids split into groups, each led by a CEC member. They learned how deep to dig their holes, how to get the tree out of its pot, and how to replace the soil just right. With the pandemic causing so much need for virtual learning, the kids planted trees with eagerness and enthusiasm, grateful for a hands-on activity. In just 45 minutes, every student planted a tree. 

“After all they’ve had to adapt to, It’s so great to get them outside like this,” Ms. Scheller said.

Three different classes participated throughout the day. Meng was beyond pleased with how well the CEC members worked with the students. “Teachers enjoy having the CEC teach the students,” Meng said. “It’s really bridging the gap between high school and middle school.”

This was just the first of six plantings scheduled this year at Fowler Middle School. Come spring, we’ll have plantings at Oregon Trail Elementary School in Clackamas County, with first-year forestry students from the Sabin Schellenberg Center serving as crew leaders. Youth engagement is critical to our mission—it creates the next generation of tree stewards in our community. On top of that, it’s just plain fun to see these kids get their hands dirty.

Special thanks to our partner Clean Water Services for supporting this work!