SHERIDAN Recess on the playground is part of daily life at Sheridan Elementary School. Thanks to a grant from the Arkansas Forestry Commission, the playground now has five new trees that will provide more shade in the not-too-distant future.
Alison Litchy, Arkansas Forestry Commission urban forestry coordinator, said the Shade Trees on Playgrounds Program (STOP) was organized to lower adult skin-cancer risk by reducing childhood exposure to direct sunlight where children play, like on playgrounds. Sheridan Elementary School is among 10 schools chosen this year as STOP recipients.
Students, school officials, parents, community members and dignitaries gathered for the local tree-planting ceremony Oct. 20. Representatives from the Arkansas Forestry Commission led the ceremony. Lindsey Bohler, Sheridan Elementary School principal, said others participating in the ceremony included members of the Grant County Fire Department who helped water the trees; state Rep. Ken Bragg, R-Sheridan; state Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado; Sheridan Mayor Joe Wise; Grant County Judge Randy Pruitt; Sheridan School District Superintendent Jerrod Williams; Grant County Cooperative Extension Service agent Brad McGinley; school board members Gart Pitts and Deborah Mooney; and numerous parents.
“We are very grateful to the AFC for awarding us this grant,” Bohler said. “Not only will it provide our students with much-needed shade during outdoor activities; the whole experience has taught our kids how important trees are to our environment and why we should take care of them.
“The students were very engaged in this project. They made tree posters and crafts, they learned and sang a song about trees at the ceremony, they helped with the planting, and they even named the trees. Our new trees (willow oak and red maple) are affectionately known as SES Learner, Shadow, Woody, Yellowjacket Love and the Giving Tree. The students suggested a list of names, all classes voted, and the trees were named.”
Bohler said that in May 2016, Bragg sent the application information about the Shade Trees on Playgrounds Program to the district. The deadline to apply was May 26.
“We — me, Cindy Whitaker and Sara Allen, both first-grade teachers — immediately started working on the application process,” Bohler said. They asked McGinley to write a letter of support for the school stating the need for trees on the playground. Whitaker and Allen made a short video clip explaining to the selection committee why it was important for Sheridan Elementary School to be selected for the STOP program.
“We received notification in early summer that we were awarded a grant through the STOP program. Mrs. Whitaker, myself and Lauren Goins, [Sheridan School District director of communications and recruitment], began making plans and scheduling guest speakers for the tree ceremony. Mrs. Whitaker and Mrs. Goins attended a STOP workshop in September to help with finalizing the plans for the ceremony. On Oct. 20, our community came together and planted the five new shade trees on our playground.”
Whitaker said she was “so excited when Mrs. Bohler told me we had been awarded the STOP grant.”
“Our playground is rather large and, until now, only had one large tree, two small trees and a pavilion for students to shade themselves from the sun,” Whitaker said. “The area under the larger tree is well worn from students gathering in the shade. I’ve spent many recess duties wishing I could get out of the sun myself. Now we have five new trees. Although it will take a few years for them to provide any significant shade, the students love them and understand how valuable they are. Oh, how beautiful our playground will be in a few years.”
Bragg said he spent his career as a forester who managed timberland and was interested in promoting the planting of shade trees on school campuses.
“I was pleased to be able to speak [during the Oct.20 ceremony] a little about my background and the importance and benefit the trees will provide — not only for shade but also for food production for wildlife. The oak trees will provide acorns for wildlife, and the maples will provide an array of colors in the fall,” Bragg said.
“I want to commend Sheridan Elementary School under the leadership of Principal Bohler for planning such an outstanding program for the planting of the maple and oak shade trees on the SES campus. She enthusiastically engaged the students in naming the trees and stressing the importance of taking a personal interest in their future care,” he said.
“Grant County extension agent Brad McGinley provided both an entertaining and educational skit that stressed the importance of trees and the everyday products and benefits trees provide to us,” Bragg said.
“I mentioned to the students how they would always be able to see the growth of the trees over the years as they mature and be able to say they had a part in the benefits they will provide,” he said.
McGinley will help take care of the trees. He also helps at other activities at the elementary school, including the school garden.
“I think this a great program,” McGinley said about STOP. “I am always excited to find ways to teach kids about the outdoors and agriculture. The kids were very excited to help plant their trees.”
Schools may submit STOP applications each May.
“To qualify, participating schools must lack shade, agree to use Arkansas Forestry Commission curriculum to emphasize the importance of trees and forestry in Arkansas at a ceremony before the tree planting, hold a tree-planting ceremony with students and agree to long-term maintenance of the shade trees planted,” Litchy said. “AFC personnel assist with the transport and planting of shade trees.”
For more information on the Shade Trees on Playgrounds Program, contact Litchy at email@example.com. The Arkansas Forestry Commission is part of the Arkansas Agriculture Department.