Blog Post By Jona Elwell

Coming Soon to a Classroom Near You: Casey Trees!

A big part of our youth engagement at Casey Trees is during the summer months, through TreeWise, our summer camp for District kids. But, as we all know, trees and the environment need stewards all year round. Therefore, we’re excited to dive into our work through the Environmental Literacy Advancement Grant! This is an opportunity for Casey Trees in collaboration with Clean Air Partners and the DC Environmental Education Consortium to year-round programming for schoolkids.

For the past five years, we’ve served as a provider for DC Environmental Literacy Advancement Grant, which basically means we’re one of the organizations that work with schools to teach students about local environmental education and stewardship. In the five years that Casey Trees has served as a provider for ELAG, we have worked with 30 schools, which includes public schools and charter schools. The DC Environmental Literacy Advancement Grant is an opportunity for Casey Trees in collaboration with Clean Air Partners and the DC Environmental Education Consortium to provide high quality science investigations that engages 5th graders. Students recognize environmental problems in urban environments and hypothesize on ways trees may mitigate some of these problems. In total, we have served over 1,400 students and planted 200 trees!

So what exactly do we focus on with kids? Casey Trees and Clean Air Partners developed the “Cleaner Air, Tree by Tree” curriculum, which explores the relationship between trees and clean air. Over the past five years, the curriculum has evolved with student and teacher input to create a high quality, hands-on learning experience in alignment with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Cleaner Air, Tree by Tree is composed of four Investigations and an introductory guided reading. These investigations are supported by video lessons and corresponding workbook. The investigations begin with a guided close reading of Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees. Students explore a statement Maathai’s mother said: “A tree is worth more than it’s wood.” Maathai’s activism serves as a thread that weaves the investigations’ purpose together. Throughout each investigation students creatively study how humans impact the environment, what the four spheres are and more on air composition, including the qualities of air and sources of air pollution and why it’s important to reduce air pollution in the city. A fun twist for students? They get to become tree detectives when they learn about the diversity of trees in DC, that trees have different identifying characteristics, and the benefits of the urban forest. Finally, in the fourth investigation, students return to the question, “Is a tree worth more than its wood?” They quantify the benefits of the trees they’ve measured in the third investigation by using iTree design.

Like seemingly everything else in March and April, we had to creatively move online instead of heading into student’s classrooms. Together with Clean Air Partners, we pivoted to virtual offerings of the Cleaner Air, Tree by Tree program. Teachers can access the investigations on the Cleaner Air, Tree by Tree portal. All of the investigations include a video lesson, Powerpoint slide deck and assignment to assess student comprehension. We’re thrilled to include supplemental video to elaborate on topics of air quality measurement, inventorying city trees and mindful engagement with urban nature. Kids are resilient, trees are resilient and turns out, we are too!

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