Students at Dr. E. L. Whigham Elementary School in Cutler Bay were selected by the South Dade Soil and Water Conservation District, sponsors of the Fourth Grade Forester of Florida Program, to take part in a special Arbor Day event on Jan. 20.
Only 200 schools statewide are chosen from among those that apply for the program, according to Marilyn Horne, the science and social studies teacher who coordinates the program at the school.
“They donate trees each year throughout the State of Florida,” Horne said. “Through this program approximately 2,000 fourth graders are given a small pine tree, it’s about a foot and a half tall, and all the instructions to care for it. They take it home and plant it and watch it grow as they grow.”
Whigham Elementary has 88 fourth graders that Horne sees daily in four classes of 22 each.
The students each received a certificate to go along with their seedling.
“The students take a pledge that they promise to care for the tree,” Horne explained. “By accepting the seedling tree they promise to plant it in a location where they can care for it ‘as the tree and I grow up together.’ The certificate declares them to be a Fourth Grade Forester of Florida and they pledge to be part of the program to preserve and protect our environment on Arbor Day and everyday.”
The first Arbor Day took place on Apr. 10, 1872 in Nebraska, the brainchild of Julius Sterling Morton, a journalist and politician originally from Michigan who served as President Grover Cleveland’s Secretary of Agriculture.
“I was really pleased to see the children’s interest in taking part in a program like this,” Horne said. “They were really excited not only to be presented with the tree, but the proclamation, the pledge and everything that went with it.
“We had to go through an application process, write a little thing as to why we wanted our school to participate. We were very lucky to be part of the program. It’s a unique opportunity for them to have.”
The students of the school recently had helped design the playground at Lakes by the Bay Park through KaBOOM!, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to saving play for America’s children. They decided they wanted to do something else for the park as well.
“E. L. Whigham Elementary School donated five of the seedling trees to the Town of Cutler Bay for the new park that’s behind our school,” Horne said. “It was actually one of the kid’s ideas that maybe we could plant the trees in the park because it’s so close to their school.”