An Emerald Canopy Shades the Blacktop

Sheila Newmark

It is difficult to imagine what Hancock Park Elementary School, just two blocks from the busy intersection of Fairfax Avenue and Third Street, would look like without its luscious greenery. Tree canopies scattered throughout the grounds provide refuge from the sizzling blacktop and seem to uplift the vibrant little school from its urban environment. Tall surrounding buildings seem less oppressive as the arboreal shelter provides children with breaths of fresh air.

This is precisely the hopeful vision that TreePeople Citizen Forester  Sheila Newmark strove for when she decided to plant 88 trees at the school site in November of 1998. As both an art teacher of 10 years and as someone who cherishes nature, Shelia knows how crucial it is to teach children to value the environment at a young age. Her own kids frequently volunteered at TreePeople and, through their involvement, she discovered “Cool School”—a program which enabled volunteers to plant trees in local school yards.

Sheila was inspired to transform Hancock’s then-barren landscape into a pleasant oasis. She rallied the support of the staff, parents, students, and a few other environmental organizations, and organized the program’s very first planting day.

The event helped to unify the school in ways that Sheila had not imagined. Staff collaborated to educate the students on the ecological significance of the planting while providing them with a fun outdoor activity. They decided that each grade would be responsible for maintaining a designated area of trees; this would teach the students dedication, encourage them to take pride in their work, and engage them with nature on a regular basis. Both students and staff could engage in a unique, environmentally-conscious relationship thanks to the new trees.

Although now retired, Sheila often returns to the school and is welcomed with overwhelming affection and admiration. Teachers enthusiastically greet her and update her on the growth of both the children and the trees, and former students recall the vital role she played in providing them a greener schoolyard. It is clear that Sheila’s determination to improve the well-being of the school will leave a lasting impression for decades to come.

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Bethany Ritz has a natural affinity for trees, TreePeople and its volunteers, who all have a wonderful story to share. She was the Associate Director and Communications Strategist for Climate Resolve before heading on to the Global Oneness Project as Managing Editor. But even before all of that, she worked with TreePeople on its Storytelling Initiative.