By Mr. Eric Pilgrim (Fort Knox news)May 3, 2018
Children circled around a square piece of plywood on the ground, lining up according to where their teachers directed them. Nearby sat a small tree spade with an eastern redbud cupped in its conic blades.
"Today is about Arbor Day, and today, I want to talk about why we also celebrate trees," said Van Voorhis Elementary School student Zander Westfall, kicking off the celebration.
Several students from Van Voorhis Elementary School continued their yearly tradition April 26 of planting a tree somewhere on school grounds. The school has worked with the Fort Knox Environmental Management Division to make each event memorable.
This year's event included a visit by Dan Pascucci, an arborist from Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, in nearby Clermont, Kentucky.
"Thank you to all of Van Voorhis for being out here and celebrating," said Pascucci, to the teachers and children. "Trees are important, and it's important for all of us to take care of those trees."
After a song sung by Yulanda Harris' kindergarten class, poetic recitations by gifted students, and a visual explanation of some of the many benefits of trees by students from Lela Richee's 2nd grade class, Logan Nutt, the installation forester, cranked up the tree spade and slowly headed for the prepared hole that had been hiding beneath the plywood. Several students clapped as he lowered the young redbud into its new Caution-home.
"It's really cool to get out and engage kids that might not otherwise get the chance to learn about Arbor Day," said Nutt.
Van Voorhis is no stranger to environmentally friendly pursuits.
In 2016, the Department of Education named the school as one of only three within the Department of Defense Education Activity to earn the title of Green Ribbon School.
According to the citation, Van Voorhis had to overcome a "chronological age" deficit, having been around since 1958. Efforts to transform the school into an energy efficient, healthy school environment coupled with educators' efforts to match the renovations with environmentally responsible curriculum led to its win.
Cynthia Noble, gifted program teacher for kindergarten to 5th grade at the school, is no stranger to environmentally friendly pursuits, either. She said she has been celebrating annual Arbor Day tree plantings since when she taught at Walker Intermediate School on Fort Knox before it closed.
"All total, I've been planting trees with the forestry service for about 15 years now," said Noble. "I think it's a worthwhile endeavor."
Noble said the magic of getting the children interested in planting one special tree each year lies in how they interpret what it means to them.
"It gives them a personal investment into it. They might not pay that much attention -- 'That's just a tree' -- but when it's their tree, it means a lot more. They're like, 'This is my tree and I'm going to take care of my tree."
Pascucci said he still remembers the first tree he ever planted as a youth -- how he wanted to plant more afterward, especially after realizing what role trees play in making the Earth a better place.
As he watched some 5th grade students spread mulch around the base of the little redbud, he said nurturing the students' interest in planting trees is always a worthy endeavor.
"We are building a connection to the environment," he said. "More than saying, 'You have to save this planet,' we are encouraging them to love it. We protect what we love."