In the spring of 2022, NRICD was pleased to partner with the US Forest Service, RI Resource Conservation and Development Council, and Gilbert Stuart Middle School on a six-visit urban forestry project focused on the Gilbert Stuart schoolyard. This project was funded by the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF)'s Greening STEM grant program.
The eighth-grade students who participated in the program took part in six in-class activities at Gilbert Stuart Middle School in Providence, RI. At the first visit, students examined their own attitudes about urban trees while learning about the benefits of the urban forest and the city of Providence's efforts to grow its urban tree canopy. They surveyed each other about their attitudes towards urban trees and compiled classroom data on the results. Project Learning Tree's excellent urban forestry resources were utilized with the addition of local context from NRICD environmental educators and the RI Resource Conservation and Development Council (RC&D) forester. During the second visit, the students walked their school's grounds and discussed the pros and cons of various planting sites and tree species selections with RC&D and Forest Service foresters before selecting locations for three 15 gallon tree plantings to add to the school's urban canopy. Students were the final decision makers regarding where the new trees would go, pending approval by our local dig safe service (which we did receive). During the third visit the students planted these trees, taking the lead with help and guidance from the program partners. The fourth visit was an exploration of careers in forestry led by our forest service partner and culminating in student presentations of careers suited for a variety of skill sets and interests. The program culminated in visits five and six, additional field days during which the students conducted a tree inventory of their campus using Forest Metrix tree inventory software donated by the RI Division of Forest Environment. An ipad was used for data collection, and students collected data on tree species, height, health, and diameter at breast height, while also learning how to use a Biltmore stick for data collection. Twenty additional students outside of the core group participated in a one-hour tree care session.
Our Greening STEM project allowed students to benefit the Greening STEM approach to learning. The students participated in place-based learning by conducting urban forestry activities right in their own schoolyard, a place they pass through multiple times a day. The project-based learning elements allowed students to function as decision makers and doers, taking responsibility for tree siting and planting as well as a tree inventory of their school's many successful plantings. The project encompassed community-based learning elements as students explored the attitudes that they and their fellow community members have about urban trees, as well as the concept of tree canopy cover as an environmental justice issue. Finally, all program aspects were guided by the anchoring concept of "why plant trees in the city." Communicating the benefits of urban trees is a major outreach and communication goal of Northern Rhode Island Conservation District. This program gave us the chance to allow Providence youth to interact with various aspects of the urban forestry field and appreciate the benefits of the urban forest firsthand.