Three decades of planting seeds: Curtis School first grade teacher celebrates her 30th Eco-tour

Donna Bernard Photo - Best 30th Eco Tour

The yellow school bus pulled up to TreePeople headquarters earlier this month, and beaming first grade teacher Donna Bernard stepped out along with dozens of excited children. Today was Ms. Bernard’s thirtieth anniversary: the thirtieth straight year she has brought her Curtis students to TreePeople for an Eco-tour field trip. 

Waiting to greet her and the first graders was TreePeople’s founder and President, Andy Lipkis. A kid himself when he planted his first trees, Andy founded the organization at age 18 – forty years ago! – and has led it ever since.

Speaking to the students gathered at picnic tables, Andy said, “When I first planted trees, I also planted a dream. The dream is what you see today – it is TreePeople. Now I want you to dream about what you can do, for our city, our trees, our animals. And I want you to go out and make it real.”

At that, groups of students went off with TreePeople educators to begin their Eco-tour at different stations, learning about baby trees in the nursery, the water cycle in the La Kretz Urban Watershed Garden, and the cycles of a natural forest along TreePeople’s nature trails. At each station they also learned what they can do to help.

Combined with the school’s environmental and conservation unit, the Eco-tour helps children understand “that all of them are responsible for taking care of our earth,” said Ms. Bernard, who noted her first students are now in their mid-30s. “The fact that they get to plant a seed and try to grow a tree is a really important thing for them because they’re understanding that trees are very important for our earth, not only to provide oxygen but also to keep our earth cool.”

 “It’s a myth that kids are ‘only kids,’” said Andy as he and Ms. Bernard mused on the impact this experience has on children. Reflecting on his own story, Andy said, “Kids learn and make change and are very powerful.”

Later that day, each holding a planted Canary Island Pine seed to take home and tend to, the students boarded their bus, knowing more about what’s needed to care for nature in our city and on our earth.

“We want to participate with TreePeople in ongoing efforts to help our students make responsible decisions about how to use resources in a sustainable fashion,” said headmaster Peter Smailes, who accompanied Ms. Bernard on this special occasion.

Listening to the students call out answers about the trees around them, Ms. Bernard smiled. “They’ll remember this,” she said. “They will.”

If you’d like information on TreePeople’s Eco-tour program, visit our website < http://www.treepeople.org/eco-tours> and contact elementaryed@treepeople.org.

If you attended an Eco-tour as a child and planted your seedling, please send a photo of your tree “all grown up” to media@treepeople.org.

Caryn Bosson has been a TreePerson since 1984. As TreePeople’s Director of Strategy, she helps the organization play a leading role in transforming Greater LA into a healthy, viable environment. She loves trees, and California native oak trees most of all.