Knock on wood: Hurley Elementary students plant campus trees

Published 12:05 am Sunday, November 6, 2022

SALISBURY — Students at Hurley Elementary School got front-row seats to a botanical presentation on Friday as the Master Gardener Volunteer Association of Rowan County planted several shade trees on campus.

“We want to come into the schools and educate the students on the importance of contributing to the environment,” said Lisa Ryder, a Master Gardener volunteer. “This school already has a good culture of that.”

Hurley Elementary is a recognized member of the N.C. Green Schools Program. This nonprofit organization promotes sustainability in the state’s public and private schools from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. 

According to the N.C. Green Schools website, the program is designed to help teachers connect and share ideas, offer resources and tools to help them start green initiatives, and recognize schools that meet specified goals. Those goals include becoming responsible stewards of natural resources, promoting life-cycle products for school materials to reduce waste, and integrating hands-on learning and field studies that allow students to experience and understand the natural environment. 

The Master Gardeners elected to have a shade tree for each house at the elementary school. 

A Hurley Elementary teacher, Emily Ryder, described the house system as the divisions at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry from the Harry Potter series. 

“It’s really good to promote engagement with kids,” she said. “It’s also a little bit of friendly competition.”

The houses each bear a Latin name, such as “Executo,” “Inservio” and “Honoris.”

“They are connected to the qualities of the house,” Emily Ryder said. “The principal and some of the other teachers, when the pandemic happened, and we were doing e-learning, they formed a house committee. We had been trying to get one going for a couple of years.”

The shade trees came from Bill Godley’s nursery. Godley provided information about the trees to the students observing the planting. 

The trees for the project represent a showcase of species native to Rowan County, such as willow oak, red oak, elm, sweet bay magnolia and red maple, which will have a connection with each house at the school.

“We decided we wanted to plant one tree per house,” Lisa Ryder said, before noting that planting the trees is only just the beginning of the tree project. “We plan to come back in a couple of weeks. We will get with the houses and have learning opportunities throughout the year, where we focus on their tree.”

That connection between the trees and the houses constitutes another learning element of the project. 

“The qualities of the trees will match the qualities of each house,” Emily Ryder said. “Executo means strong work ethic, getting things done and staying organized. The tree for us is the elm tree because it gets very big and it’s a strong tree. A few years ago, Dutch Elm disease wiped out many of the elm trees in the U.S. They are slowly working hard to come back from that.”

Like many plans, Hurley Elementary’s engagement with the master gardener group was derailed by COVID.

The master gardener group still built a pollinator garden at Hurley Elementary, granting the students a glimpse into what it does.

“We want to teach the students about things they can do in their own yards,” Lisa Ryder said. “The trees were an outreach of that. We started learning about the importance of trees as habitat.”

The project was made possible by a Master Gardener grant and a contribution from N.C. Farm Bureau.  

“This is the environment,” Lisa Ryder said. “We’re teaching the kids how to take care of the trees. The trees are important for the habitat and the pollinators, which are used in farming.”

Between the grant and the Farm Bureau’s contribution, the Tree Project had a $1,000 budget. Lisa Ryder indicated that Hurley Elementary picked up the rest of the total, $300.