Sustainability Spotlight: Northeast High School STEM Garden Club Tree Planting

Ten new trees have taken root at Northeast High School this week. After noticing a lack of shade in the front of the building, the STEM Garden Club decided to plant trees to keep students cooler while they waited for rides after school. Early College and Career STEM Focus Program Coordinator, Bailey Feit, worked with Garden Club students to secure the approvals, saplings, and community support needed to make the October planting day a reality.

Feit said that the project was especially exciting for club members with an interest in landscape design. Students learned from urban foresters and landscape architects as they drew up plans for the planting locations. These conversations taught students about how to select and space different tree species, as well as career options that allow regular interaction with the outdoors, Feit said.

“There was a lot of navigation process… and a lot of different entities involved.”

When their initial plan was complete, Feit and her students sought approval from the district for their planting project. They incorporated changes from LPS that would allow the trees to remain undisturbed when future improvement projects take place at the school. Garden Club members then called 811 ‘Diggers Hotline’ to make sure they would stay clear of buried wires or pipes when the trees ultimately went in the ground.

A tulip tree sapling waiting to be planted at Northeast High School

With approvals in hand and trees sourced through the Ten Free Trees grant offered by Nebraska Forestry and Nebraska Statewide Arboretum, Northeast students and staff broke ground. Among the dozen or so people who also helped plant on Oct. 30 were staff from the Nebraska Forest Service, Arbor Day Foundation, Lincoln Parks and Recreation, and Nebraska Statewide Arboretum.

“We wanted to make sure these trees could stay for a really long period of time”

Club members like Hoda, a junior at Northeast, have been a part of the project from initial idea through the planting day. Hoda shared that the club has focused mostly on agricultural topics in the past, but the trees are a welcome addition. “It’s been our plan to plant trees for a while, and we’re finally doing it,” she said.

Justin Evertson of the Nebraska Forest Service first heard about the planting day from a coworker and stepped up to offer his expertise. “We’re all part of the team so we dive in and help work,” he said. Before the group began planting, Evertson shared tips on how to trim off looped roots, evaluate an appropriate planting depth, and stake the young trees. Northeast High School is now host to Nebraska-native tree species like chinkapin oak and Ohio buckeye, as well as crabapple and tulip trees.

“I haven't been close to the full effort here at the school this fall, but I can see a lot of really good stuff is going on.”

Evertson demonstrates planting techniques

Feit said the school has plans to incorporate the new trees into science and math curricula, as well as communicating the role of trees in energy savings and sustainability overall. “We’re going to continue to work with Arbor Day Foundation,” she said. “Our ultimate goal at the end is to become the first Nebraska high school… to become a K-12 Tree Campus.” This unique recognition opportunity will involve an Arbor Day celebration next April and collaboration to bring even more trees to schools across Lincoln.

It was amazing to see the help pour in for Northeast’s tree planting day, and from so many different places. Thank you to all the volunteers and especially to the Northeast staff and students who got the ball rolling on this project!