Fourth grade students sat in a circle outside of Hampstead Elementary School on Friday as Bryan Shumaker knelt down next to an unplanted tree.
“Why are we planting trees here?” Shumaker asked the pupils.
“To produce oxygen for us to breathe,” one student answered.
“To prevent pollution,” answered another.
Shumaker, STEM coordinator for Carroll County Public Schools, asked the student to elaborate; she explained planted trees can absorb contaminated water that could be harmful to the environment if it were to flow to the Chesapeake Bay.
Shumaker brought 20 trees to the elementary school for the Earth Day educational activity. The river birch and red maple trees were donated by the Clear Ridge Nursery located in Union Bridge.
Jessica Todd, president of the nursery, said they donated 3,500 trees last summer. Their trees go as far north as Maine and as far south as North Carolina. The trees are in good shape but the pandemic caused them to have a lot of cancellations. There wasn’t enough room at the nursery to keep them all.
Earlier in the school year, students learned about the ecosystem and a fourth grade teacher, Vickie Study, asked Shumaker if he could show students how to plant a tree. She didn’t expect him to bring 20.
Study said it’s been a tough year and the pandemic didn’t allow them to have any field trips. They were in need of an activity. Along with learning more about trees, Study said she hopes the activity helps students “understand they can make a plan and put it into action.”
The planting was initially scheduled for Thursday, but the weather caused the school to postpone the event for the day after Earth Day.
“We are a green school so this is important for us to give back to the environment and the community,” Principal Arlene Moore said.
After Shumaker demonstrated the tree planting and went over shovel safety, the students split into groups of three and hustled to find a red dot spray painted on the grass. Each dot was 20 feet apart.
One person from each group grabbed a shovel, and the other carried a tree, which seemed triple the size of a fourth grader, back to their red dots.
Then, it was time to start digging.
Addy Wagner started shoveling, flicking some of the dirt onto the shoes of her group members.
“Get used to it boys,” she said to classmates Brayden Gonce and Eddie Uhlman.
Wagner said she had experience planting, but with steer pens on her farm back home. Uhlman, who said he planted flowers before, had trouble during the early stages of digging.
“I thought this was going to be easy,” he said.
“It’s a little hard but we kept on running into rocks,” Elizabeth Simonsen, who was in another group, said.
They also kept running into worms.
“But we’re putting them over there so we don’t chop them in half,” fellow group member Ryan Naylor said.
It took at least half an hour for students to dig holes to be deep enough for a tree.
Sasha Chesnokov, Emerson Fultz and Giuliana Peters seemed to have the deepest hole of all the fourth graders. According to Chesnokov, girl power and jumping on the head of the shovel as they dug, were the keys to their success.
The girls resorted to using their bare hands to removing some of the dirt and the occasional worm they ran into.
“I love everything that gets me messy,” Chesnokov said. “But my mom doesn’t like it.”
Her group successfully fitted their red maple in the hole they dug and filled the remaining space with dirt. Their tree was used for a demonstration for the next step, packing it with mulch.
Study said students have already started talking about next year’s plans. As fifth graders, they hope to take measurements of the tree next year to see its growth.
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Shumaker said he’s helping with another tree planting on April 30 on Arbor Day to celebrate the student who won an Arbor Day competition last year when the pandemic hit.