MANSFIELD — Students at Discovery School
pulled on their rain boots and traipsed through the forest, their shoes squishing against the muddy forest floor.
Earlier this month, students, parents, grandparents and teachers planted nearly 70 saplings to replace fallen trees on the school's 20-acre woods.
Discovery School, located on Millsboro Road, serves students from preschool through 6th grade. The school is surrounded by trees, where students have class in the woods each week.
Several trees in the sprawling old growth forest have fallen in recent years due to wind storms and damage from the Emerald Ash Borer, an invasive beetle from Asia. Efforts to replant took root at the beginning of the school year in Alyssa Nugent's kindergarten class.
“The class was out taking a hike," said Julie Schwartz, Discovery’s head of school. "They saw several trees that had been blown over in a windstorm and it concerned them.”
Administrators originally decided to purchase 11 saplings — one for every class. The school's sponsor-a-tree fundraiser ended up generating enough for 51 saplings with support from individuals as well as local businesses. The school chose white pine, a tree that's deer resistant and native to the Great Lakes Region.
“These woods over here are absolutely full of deer," Schwartz said. "We wanted to pick a tree the deer weren’t going to eat before they had a chance to grow.”
Kim Hildreth and the City of Mansfield Shade Tree Commission donated an additional 50 white pine saplings.
The school wide planting took place May 12. Students planted in pairs — older students were partnered with younger students. Parent and grandparent volunteers also came to help.
“They loved it. The woods are really muddy right now," Schwartz said. "Kids like any excuse to put on their rubber boots and play in the mud and we literally gave them permission to do that."
Susan Clewell, a substitute teacher whose three children attend Discovery, said it was an opportunity for the kids to leave a lasting impact on their school.
“They have a physical contribution to the school that they can see and care for and think about," she said.
Students also got to practice critical thinking, considering a variety of factors before selecting a spot to dig.
Clewell said students were told to consider soil quality and the amount of sunlight a tree would receive. Did the spot have enough space for a sapling's roots to spread without bumping into other tree roots? Was it far enough from the trail not to get trampled?
"I think allowing kid to spend time in nature and to be surrounded by the woods creates a magical learning environment," she said. "It builds a love and appreciation for all living things and it's chock full of learning opportunities that they get to see firsthand, not just in a textbook or on a screen."
It all felt like a full circle moment for Schwartz. She organized a school wide tree planting after joining the Discovery staff five years ago. She'll end her time as head of school at the end of June to accept a position at the Ohio Bird Sanctuary.
"It is such an outdoorsy school and that’s what makes me tick. I’m an outdoor educator at heart," Schwartz said. "I’m going to miss having all these children with me everyday, but I know that’s something I’ll still get to do.”
Assistant Head of School Simon Clark will take over next year. Nugent, whose students inspired the planting project, will become assistant head of school.