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.

Get to know Adrián + Project Zero

Through Project Zero young people are creating cleaner, greener communities

Project Zero intern Adrián Moreno just completed his internship with Friends of Trees and to celebrate the milestone he recently guest-starred on our Instagram account to share a little bit about his experience:

“I wanted to help mitigate the environmental crisis that we are all living right now, so I applied to the PGE Project Zero intern position and got the job! Through this internship I got to be involved in the process of creating, maintaining, and restoring green spaces.

“I also got to build and maintain community with people who want to help the environment. I was able to learn new skills and experience new environments. Before this day, I was afraid of public speaking.”

Taaj Armstrong, PGE Dean of Cohort, talks a bit about Project Zero, “Environmental stewardship is one of PGE Project Zero’s core components; with equity as a large driver, we knew that a strategic partnership with Friends of Trees would be integral in reducing the negative health impacts of climate change on low-income communities, Indigenous populations and communities of color. We were also thrilled that Friends of Trees is a partner in PGE Project Zero Works, helping to design the green jobs internship program, and hosting a PGE Project Zero intern, which has been wildly successful.”

We loved working with Adrián and are excited to share that he’s still on the Tree Team through another of our educational programs, “I really appreciate the opportunity that FOT has given me and I’ll continue working with them through the Adult Urban Forestry Training Program and complete my career in environmental economics!”

Photo: Adrián in action during his Project Zero internship.

Connecting Black urban youth to the environment

Meet The Blueprint Foundation

“I like the feeling of getting my hands dirty because I feel like I did something. It’s a good feeling.”

Lashay, Friends of Trees intern through the Blueprint Foundation

Friends of Trees is fortunate to have relationships with quite a few local nonprofit organizations that benefit under-served communities, such as communities of color, at-risk youth, and neighborhoods with very little tree canopy. These partnerships help make trees accessible to community members who may not otherwise have access to all that trees do for us.

The Blueprint Foundation works to expose Black urban youth to learning opportunities they usually do not get to access. Friends of Trees is proud to be a partner to the Blueprint Foundation’s Grounding Waters program, where students learn about careers in environmental science while taking an active role in environmental stewardship.

“One of the first and most consistent activities we’ve had our kids do is the Friends of Trees neighborhood plantings, which allows them to connect with their neighbors, as well as do something directly beneficial to their own community, that they see, that has permanence.” – Jason Stroman, Program Director, The Blueprint Foundation; Friends of Trees Board of Directors

The Friends of Trees – Blueprint Foundation partnership introduces Black youth to jobs in the urban forestry field. Students receive stipends to gain job and leadership skills through training and participating with Friends of Trees as Summer Tree Inspectors and tree planting Crew Leaders.

The Blueprint-Friends of Trees partnership helps connect young people to the environment, while also supporting a historically underrepresented community’s access to nature and its benefits by decreasing barriers to participation. “The ultimate goal,” Jason points out, “is to eliminate the opportunity gap that we see for Black youth.”

Learn more about the Blueprint Foundation’s work to “to uplift, educate, and support the development of black-identified youth and other communities of color.”

 

Get to know our partner: Chemawa Indian School

Friends of Trees has been partnering with Chemawa Indian School in Salem for more than five years. Our partnership includes training Chemawa students as Crew Leaders for our planting events in Salem and engaging hundreds of Chemawa students at tree planting and tree care events, including activities at the Chemawa Indian School campus.

This partnership has been driven by dedicated teachers and staff at Chemawa who are passionate about creating opportunities for the students to participate in their community through improving the environment while building their leadership skills.

Chemawa teacher Paula Stuart explains why the partnership is so valuable to Chemawa, Friends of Trees’ offer to donate trees on Chemawa’s campus has increased awareness of the importance of environmental stewardship. Students who might not have otherwise noticed have joined in, sometimes merely tempted by donuts and hot chocolate, then catching the joy of working outside in teams of happy diggers.”

Paula continues, “Science teachers at the school have offered credit for participation and I am ever so happy that this active engagement has influenced several students’ interest in pursuing environmental careers.”

Finish reading here, where you will find the entire November edition of Treemail, our monthly e-news. Want to catch up on past issues of Treemail? They’re here!

Growing the next Tree Team generation

Friends of Trees and partners are providing job training and leadership skill-building opportunities for youth

Nature deficit disorder is real. It is unhealthy for young people and it is unhealthy for our community and the planet. Educating youth about nature through learning about and planting trees improves the personal health of the students and is creating the next generation of environmental stewards. Top this off with partnerships that include job-training and leadership skill-building and we’re making great strides in growing the next Tree Team generation.
Friends of Trees’ educational programming actively and meaningfully connects youth of all ages with nature while providing hands-on experiences with environmental work. Every year we engage more than 2,500 young people, from elementary school through high school.
Much of our work with youth involves project-based environmental education with at-risk high school students, providing minority, low-income and other under-served young people with hands on job-training and leadership skill-building activities. Students serve in leadership roles through planning, participating in, and leading planting and tree care events with community members throughout the Portland Metro and Salem Metro regions.
“The program creates a sense of belonging to something larger than themselves,” says Leigh Rappaport, Program Manager with project partner Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center. “The students feel that they’re doing something important by helping volunteers learn how to plant trees–and they’re also learning a lot about trees.”
Partners in this work include:
  • POIC/Rosemary Anderson High School: At-risk youth participate in a POIC job training program through training and serving as Crew Leaders (a key Friends of Trees volunteer role) and helping to plan and implement tree planting events throughout the season.
  • Cascade Education Corps: Washington County high school students in CEC train as Crew Leaders, and are also trained to work with elementary and middle school students. The older students work with the younger ones on planting teams, serving as their Crew Leaders for tree planting and tree care events.
  • Chemawa Indian School: Students undergo Crew Leader training and serve as Crew Leaders at Salem-area tree-planting events. The students train and lead community volunteers, as well as their fellow Chemawa students (read more about this partnership below).

What’s particularly encouraging about this program is the overwhelming interest from the students. Friends of Trees Deputy Director Whitney Dorer shares, “Young people really want this, there is a growing, huge demand. For instance, this year 45 students applied for the 15 available POIC spots.” Whitney concludes, “Our vision is to be able to make this available for all young people who are interested, so we are especially grateful to the variety of funders and partners who are investing in today’s youth.”

Pictured above: POIC Program Manager Leigh Rappaport (center) with POIC student Crew Leaders.