Kahoa students plant memories during special tree lesson in park

Kahoa Elementary School students expanded their learning roots this spring with an activity that helped both themselves and the environment.
Fourth graders changed the landscape of Kahoa Park by planting 40 trees across the property. They spent time during the afternoon learning about trees and the many ways they benefit both people and nature. They then moved dirt, patted down mulch and beamed with pride when their trees were standing upright.
Andi and Sawyer both said they enjoyed being with their classmates at the park. They were happy after working with two trees in their small groups. Andi said she and her teammates named their trees Charles and Peanut Butter, and Sawyer’s group decided Billy and Bobby would be good names for the planting project.
“I liked that we got to plant trees,” Andi said. “It was a lot of fun. I think it’s something that I’m going to remember for a long time.”
“I had a really good time,” Sawyer said. “First we learned how to plant trees, and then we did it ourselves. I thought it was awesome.”
Kahoa Principal Mandy Nickolite-Green smiled as she watched students work together. They discovered details about trees and why they are a critical part of nature earlier in the week. Ontario-based professor Elwood Pricklethorn shared his decades of horticulture and arboriculture knowledge with them at a school assembly.
“It’s been great,” Nickolite-Green said. “The kids have had a great time today. It’s been really neat to see how they’ve connected what they learned in the assembly to coming out here and getting to plant trees for themselves. It’s been a really good experience.”
Arbor Day Foundation representative Taylor Barnes had a similar point of view. She hoped students would want to copy the Kahoa project in their own backyards and neighborhoods. The foundation provided tree seedlings for everyone to take home with them after they finished at the park.
“Plant the seed and inspire the next generation, because there is no better time than now to plant trees,” Barnes said. “That’s our goal. The great thing is these students will be able to look at their adjacent park and see the trees that they’ve planted as they continue to go through elementary school.”
Lincoln Public Schools Sustainability Department Coordinator Brittney Wees said multiple school and community organizations planned the tree planting adventure. Wees and fellow LPS Sustainability Department representatives Mandy Bydalek and Alex Coffelt worked with the Arbor Day Foundation, Lincoln Parks and Recreation Department, the Early College and Career STEM Focus Program at Northeast High School and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.
“This is something that has taken months of planning, so it’s exciting to see everything come together today,” Wees said. “I’m really happy for the kids. It’s been great to see how enthusiastic they are about planting their trees.”
City crews used an auger to create dirt holes for each tree before students arrived on site. Lance Wolken, a district supervisor with Lincoln Parks and Recreation, then began the day by teaching the fourth graders the correct way to plant trees. He explained where tree roots were located and why it was important for them to be vertical in the ground.
“Should the tree go this way?” Wolken said as he held it in a slanted direction in the hole.
“No!” students said.
“Should it go in this way?” Wolken asked as he held it straight.
“Yes!” students replied.
Wolken taught everyone about the importance of rainwater and nutrients before showing them how to spread mulch around the tree's base. He told them mulch keeps moisture in the ground and prevents weeds from accessing the tree.
Students also learned there are many types of trees. The Kahoa project included northern catalpa, Canada red cherry, bur oak, swamp white oak, autumn brilliance serviceberry, spring snow crabapple, prairiefire crabapple, common hackberry, skyline honeylocust and triumph elm species.
Kaylyn Neverve, a park planner at Lincoln Parks and Recreation, was one of many volunteers who helped students plant trees. Neverve watched her group place a bur oak in the ground before racing to another hole on the park’s east side. She was impressed with the many lessons students gained from their time outdoors.
“Not only does it help the environment, but the kids get a lot out of this too,” Neverve said. “I could just see them gaining confidence as they started to plant their trees and they could see that they were really doing this. They were taking ownership of it and making it their project. It’s really exciting when something like that happens.”
Students enjoyed popsicles in the park’s shelter house after all 40 trees were in the ground. They listened to several presentations from school and community leaders before returning to Kahoa.
Andi said she would especially remember the teamwork that was on full display in the park. She felt that was one of the best parts of Kahoa’s tree planting adventure.
“It was fun to see everybody working together,” Andi said. “I really liked that. Everyone got to help, which I thought was really cool.”
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Published: May 29, 2024, Updated: May 29, 2024

Kahoa Elementary School students enjoy putting mulch around a newly-planted tree this spring at Kahoa Park. Students planted 40 trees in the park during the sunny afternoon. They learned lessons about teamwork and accomplishment throughout their tree planting adventure.