Donation Provided by Forest ReLeaf of Missouri, Project CommuniTree
The trees – seven Willow oaks, one Bur oak and one Kentucky coffeetree — were made possible thanks to Forest ReLeaf of Missouri and their Project CommuniTree through a partnership with the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC).
Barb Meraz became the site director of the University Child Development Center in April 2013. One of her first observations was the need for shade trees on the playground and in their outdoor classroom, she said.
“I am so excited about this project because it provides a long-term, sustainable solution to the need for shade in our outdoor environments,” Miraz said. “And, planting these trees provides today’s children with an opportunity to be a part of caring for the natural world in hopes that they will one day be adults who care for and model a love of the natural world to the next generation of children.”
During today’s events, a Bur oak was planted near a raised garden bed to provide shade for the playground’s sandbox area. The Kentucky coffeetree was planted in a dedicated area of the outdoor classroom known as “Levi’s Peace Garden,” in memory of a former preschooler who attended the Center. The Kentucky coffeetree joins an October Glory maple tree already planted in the garden. Meraz says Project CommuniTree is committed to donating additional memorial trees and has encouraged the Center to apply for another tree each year to be planted in the garden at a May Day celebration.
“The Missouri Department of Conservation has been very helpful from the beginning” with the project, Meraz said. “They are the resource that connected us with Missouri ReLeaf and Project CommuniTree. Their knowledge of native Missouri trees and what grows well in our part of the state is key to our overall plan of maintaining and sustaining the trees. They have resources that we, as early childhood educators, have used and integrated into our curriculum,” including posters and other materials.
Forest ReLeaf is an independent, nonprofit organization that provides trees for public and nonprofit plantings and for educational programs to increase stewardship of trees and forests in Missouri and surrounding areas. Project CommuniTree is a community-assisted nursery in Creve Coeur Park, Mo.
Pre-schoolers at the University Child Development Center along with students from Southeast Missouri State University’s UI459 class, “Nature Literacy,” and MDC Regional Forester Rocky Hayes, who consulted on the project, were on hand to help plant the trees.
Southeast students in UI459 developed a Nature Advocacy project that includes age appropriate activities to help children at the Center connect to nature and to the care and maintenance of the new trees. The class is taught by Tammy Davis, Southeast human environmental studies instructor and faculty coordinator to the Center.
Meraz says she hopes Horticulture Club students will help with decisions about future plantings to create a sustainable, long-term plan for the future of the outdoor classroom. The Missouri Department of Conservation also has helped with future recommendations to make the outdoor classroom more sustainable and maintainable, including replacing some ground cover, bushes and shrubs with Missouri native plants.