February 1, 2021 /
Jona Elwell

Black History Month: Turner Elementary School

Black History Month, celebrated every February in the States, is a time to remember and honor the many groups and individuals who contributed to the success and achievements of this country as well as to advancement for African Americans as a people. Black History Month was born in DC by our very own Dr. Carter G. Woodson, who started Negro History Week in 1926. His house, located at 1538 9th St NW in Shaw, is now a National Historic Site.

In the past, we’ve looked at places in DC and people in forestry celebrating African American contributions to our country and field. This year, we thought we’d do something different since this has been a wholly unusual year. Looking at the places our crew has planted sans volunteers in 2020, we’re going to spend the month delving into the prominent African Americans behind some of our planting locations, enriching our understanding.

Up first? Turner Elementary School

So what’s in a name? Turner Elementary, also known as Anita J. Turner Elementary, is named after Anita Turner, a Black Female Physical Educator. While information is unsurprisingly and unfortunately scarce about Ms. Turner, we do know she was instrumental in the career of one of Washington DC’s top administrators Edwin Hancroft Henderson, the first certified black male physical educator in this country. Thanks to her physical prowess and remarkable teaching ability, after her graduation from Washington, DC’s Minor Normal School in 1891 she began a distinguished career in physical education. Starting with teaching ‘physical culture’ at Lovejoy Elementary School in September 1891, she then taught physical education in multiple Black high schools in 1893. By 1902 she was made Assistant Director of Physical Education for the entirety of the District’s Black school system. She took over the Director’s position in 1924 until she was succeeded by Mr. Henderson in 1936. Her remarkable series of advancements represented continuous service for over 49 years. She was one of the pioneers in what was then a comparatively new educational discipline, helping to develop the very programs she was then assigned to direct. Ahead of her time, she replaced regimented, formal exercise in school with games, stunts, folk dance.  Known as a “strong-minded individual embeded with determination to succeed,” she was “dedicated to providing optimal educational opportunities and conditions for Washington area black youngsters.”

We were happy to plant trees alongside Turner Elementary.

We first planted at this Southeast elementary school in the fall of 2013 where we helped establish a growing garden! Our next planting in October 2016 added fig and pawpaw trees to the growing garden and powerhouse shade trees like oaks and a Southern magnolia to help shade their parking lot and prevent increased stormwater runoff. In November 2018 we were excited to return to the school, this time as part of our School Tree Planting program where we involved the students and helped them learn why we were planting trees and their importance. Incorporating lessons on the parts of trees and what they do for cities enriches the tree planting process and helps students invest in the trees so they’re more likely to care for them. As part of this curriculum, we get to hold a Tree Pep Rally with students and truly, there is nothing better than a classroom of elementary school students excitedly cheering for trees. Our focus with the 2018 cohort of kids was to add additional shade and stormwater trees, so they helped us plant ten trees, including spring stunners like crape myrtles and Yoshino cherries, urban workhorses like river birches and red oaks, and even a few southern staples like the magnolia. 

In early 2020, we were excited to continue this environmentally based lesson with Turner Elementary students through our Environmental Literacy and Advancement Grant (ELAG). Although our curriculum went virtual, we were still able to engage with students and further solidify the next generation of tree stewards. Part of our ELAG partnership with schools is another hands on tree planting, but like so much of 2020 plans, that didn’t quite happen. We still had the trees and Turner still needed them, so our crew safely and distantly planted 14 more trees at Turner! A silver lining for everyone, despite the challenges of the past year. 

To grow a greater, greener city, we must work together, not just today or tomorrow, but day after day and year after year. When we teach younger generations about the value of trees and green space now, we will ensure that our city’s lush tree-filled legacy continues. When we know more about the people and names behind the schools, parks, and centers we retree, our perception and understanding of that place and its legacy is enriched. We need your support to continue inspiring future tree stewards – become Casey Trees Member today. Your gift ensures programs like this continue.

Article photo courtesy of OSSE.