This Kew Gardens Hills school, which teaches pre-Kindergarden through 8th grade, was assessed by MillionTreesNYC last spring and identified as a potential site for apple orchard trees because of its large under-utilized green area.
In May of this year, they received a total of 67 trees on their campus, including 19 apple trees, like the MacIntosh, Golden Delicious, and Honey Crisp. P.S. 219 is one of the first schools to receive apple trees.
The new trees were planted by New York Restoration Project volunteers and 70 fifth-graders that participated in RespecTree, a three-month curriculum for 5th and 6th grade students given prior to planting. The curriculum provided two instructors that helped students explore the need for trees in New York City and how to care for them.
Other trees donated included Japanese Cedar, Honeylocust, Carolina Silverbell, Goldenrain, Dawn Redwood and Japanese Zelkova.
Trees were designated to a particular class and teacher, and also registered online to record their progress.
Frederick Wright, who has been P.S. 219’s principal since last September, said the apple trees should blossom by next spring, while the deciduous ones will show color by the fall.
The project is part of MillionTreesNYC, an initiative to plant and care for one million new trees throughout the five boroughs by 2017.
“We are trying to go to areas where there are high asthma rates, and trees can reduce this,” said Mya Jenkins, a RespecTree educator. “We educate the students, who will be the next generation to take care of the trees.”
During the spring, RespecTree educators travelled to schools across the city, where they taught a total of 10 classes on urban forests, using hands-on-learning and the connection of humans' needs of trees.
It came at a good time for P.S. 219, who was able to allocate 1,000 square feet for planting and now continues to focus on gardening. In the back of the school they have raised beds of anise, curry and cilantro. They also added Gazebo trees and will soon add a pumpkin patch.
“We don’t want this to be a one-time event,” said Wright.
The school pushes faculty to teach students about gardening, with elements such as how to raise a garden bed and how to maintain herbs and flowers. Now 1st to 8th graders are involved in different aspects of planting.
Allen Gottfried, occupational therapist at P.S. 219, uses gardening to help students with learning disabilities from mild to severe, and those with attention deficit.
Gottfried often sees students who have attention deficit in class begin to calm down and concentrate when they work with gardening tools and soil.
“They are learning skills that can be applied to class,” he said .
The students use tools, visual perception, core muscle, and the activity provides postural stability. And they also learn how to solve problems, follow directions and complete age-level projects.
Principal Wright has seen great improvement already in his students.
“They are able to talk to you about what type of trees they are planting,” he said.
In the past months, students also learned about composting under the guidance of the Queens Botanical Garden. “This is a worthwhile thing to do.” he said. “It’s imperative that we have a cost-effective way to maintain nutrients.”
Wright plans to distribute apples to the students after they harvest. He also wants to start an after-school gardening program. Ultimately he wants to have 5th graders as “stewards” to train younger students on tree maintenance.
“They take ownership in school property, they take pride and they are seeing a living thing grow," Wright said. "There is value in that.”