The week after spring break Ella stopped me in the hall as I was walking through the building with Mr. Roher and Mrs. Ambeau. She shared with me her concerns about trees being cut down in Friendswood due to new development. I told her that I would talk with Mrs. Swift, our counselor who also has a passion for the outdoors and her teacher to see what we could do to address her concerns.
Mrs. Swift met with Ella to discuss her ideas and narrow down what she could actually do in the school setting. Mrs. Swift contacted Mom, Dad and Mrs. McCray (our gifted and talented teacher) about ways to help Ella use her voice.
McCray scheduled a meeting with Mrs. Denny and Mrs. Swift to see how this could be incorporated into current lessons or extensions to the curriculum being taught. Mrs. Denny tied it into her poetry unit, as well as her writing center and persuasive writing unit (one student wrote their persuasive letter to Mayor Foreman about trees). Students used their center time to research and make their tree posters to hang around the school.
Posters were hung the week of May 10. May 17 Mrs. McCray invited Ella and “any interested students” down to her room to discuss how they could expand on the project now that they had completed their posters. Mrs. Denny’s entire class came down and had a brainstorming session about what comes next. The students came up with the idea to speak with community leaders.
Mrs. McCray set up a meeting with members of our city council along with Mayor Mike Foreman through Zoom. Ella eloquently shared her desire for Friendswood, which was to save as many trees as possible and asked Mayor Mike Foreman, City Manager, Morad Kabiri – Assistant City Manager, Steven Rhea, Council Members -Trish Hanks, Sally Branson and President of The Friends of Downtown Friendswood Brett Banfield, about ways to keep Friendswood beautiful with trees and the possibility of planting of trees for the future. Ella said: “After all “wood” is in our city’s name. What would Friendswood be without trees.”
That afternoon, the students went out to our character garden to plant 4 trees as a beginning to what I’m sure is a lifelong passion of promoting a greener environment, one that includes shaded parks, roadways, and neighborhoods.
Cline Elementary believes that students learn best and succeed in a space where they feel heard, seen and connected. Ella had an idea and a vision of making a difference in her community. This is also a perfect example of one of our goals, which is to partner with the community to actively create and foster a learning environment dedicated to real-world instruction and experiences.
Our counselor and teachers recognized and opportunity of a problem arising organically and used this problem to make a more powerful and meaningful learning experience for our students.
The power of allowing one student to use her voice grew into a louder group of voices, who then are making a greater impact. Two students in the group will be leaving Friendswood next year and are moving. They shared that they were going to take this same idea and plant trees in their new community in Austin. When I shared that the trees that were were planting were papaya trees and they will grow fruit, one of the students said: “we can sell the fruit and make money to buy and plant more trees.” True entrepreneurs in the making!