MDC gives Orchard Elementary fourth graders hands on training in tree planting

News from the region
Published Date

JACKSON, Mo. – Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) foresters visited Orchard Elementary School in Jackson Wednesday morning to help with planting six bald cypress trees and teach fourth graders about trees. MDC Community Forester Jennifer Behnken said the trees were funded through regional community forestry funds.

“Trees provide so many benefits to our communities, not just in air quality, but they can provide visual security at schools, like here at the edge of the playground and they also provide a great opportunity for these students to learn and get their hands in the dirt,” Behnken said.

The project began in the summer, when the School Resource Officer, Tim Lester, contacted Behnken to ask if there were appropriate trees that could provide a visual barrier between the school’s playground and the property border.

“We have a fence, but I was thinking it would be nice to provide a higher visibility screen, and it made sense to use trees if there were some available,” Lester said.

Behnken worked with Lester and the school’s assistant principal, Jessica Simmons, to arrange not just the donation of the trees, but an educational lesson for the fourth-grade class. On Wednesday, Behnken’s crew brought the trees, six 15-gallon sized bald cypress, and gave the fourth graders a lesson about the benefits of trees and what trees need to survive, especially when planting.

“Can anyone tell me what benefits trees have to offer a place like a school?” Behnken asked the students as they were gathered around the first cypress tree.

The students responded enthusiastically with answers such as; shade, they’re nice to see and they make great bases to use when playing tag.

“Each of those answers are correct, trees have a lot of benefits, but these trees will also grow to about sixty feet, so they’ll also provide a nice tall wall of green, for privacy at the back of your playground,” she told them.

Bald Cypress trees were chosen for the planting because they grow relatively quickly, grow very tall, and they tolerate flat, low ground, she said.

MDC Education Consultant Bridget Jackson, works with Orchard Elementary through the Discover Nature Schools Program. According to Jackson, giving students time outdoors with activities such as tree planting has been found to improve student’s learning retention levels in the classroom and reduce stress levels.

“Even after today, when the trees are planted and growing, they’ll provide an aesthetic value for the students when they look out the classroom window or enjoy them on the playground,” Jackson said. “It’s proven that connecting with nature is good for the physical and mental health of a child.”

After the initial discussion with Behnken on the value and science of trees, the students formed groups of six to plant the trees with supervision from Lester, Simmons and the MDC foresters. They dug the holes for the trees, placed them in the ground and applied mulch around each one.

"I really appreciate the Conservation Department working with us and providing these beautiful trees for our playground,” said Simmons.

Simmons shared comments students made after the event including, "I can’t wait until I graduate high school and come back to walk the halls, I bet these trees will be huge." Another student said, "I love getting dirty at school and helping out."

Behnken and her crew spend a lot of time planting trees across southeast Missouri, but Wednesday’s tree planting was special.

“Anytime we get to spend time teaching young students and watch their excitement for learning and connecting with nature, that’s just the best kind of work day for us,” Behnken said.

Learn how trees work for your community at Learn more about TRIM at