Paynter, McAnnulty students branching out of the classroom

Brian Woods, 6, a first-grader at Paynter Elementary, rakes mulch over a newly planted tree in front of his school last week.
Brian Woods, 6, a first-grader at Paynter Elementary, rakes mulch over a newly planted tree in front of his school last week.
Photo by Stephanie Hacke | South Hills Record
| Wednesday, April 30, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

There's Sidney Crosby, Mrs. Toki, Rainbow Apple and even Olaf, named after the snowman in Disney's movie, “Frozen.”

After digging, planting, mulching, watering and learning about the 50 newly planted apple, pine and elm trees in front of Paynter and McAnnulty elementary schools in the Baldwin-Whitehall School District, the students' final task appeared to be the most daunting: naming the tree that they will help foster.

“My favorite part is digging the dirt up and finding worms,” said Elliot Giusti, 7.

First-graders at Paynter and McAnnulty, during the last two weeks, helped to plant trees in front of their schools. Baldwin-Whitehall received 50 free trees from TreeVitalize Pittsburgh, through a grant received by Economic Development South and the Brentwood-Baldwin-Whitehall Shade Tree Commission.

TreeVitalize Pittsburgh awards grants, which consist of free trees and support services, in the spring and fall each year since 2008, said Marah Vecenie, community outreach assistant. They give away 3,000 to 4,000 trees each year, but have never connected this closely with a school, she said.

“It was a new process and a very fun one,” she said. “We just wanted to make sure that the kids got an education.... “The kids just bring a whole new life to it.”

Representatives from TreeVitalize Pittsburgh explained each step to the first-graders to make sure they were learning about the mulch, watering and planting process, Vecenie said. Their questions brought about a new level of learning for those already well-educated in tree planting.

“Kids see things a lot differently than we do,” she said.

The tree planting fit right into Baldwin-Whitehall's curriculum.

Kindergartners have a unit all about trees, and second-graders learn about soil.

“It's really a fundamental building block,” said Andrea Huffman, director of curriculum.

The plan is for the youngsters to continue with the upkeep of the trees, Huffman said.

The trees also help the students have a lasting connection to their school, Superintendent Randal Lutz said.

“These kids, for the next four or five years, they'll see these trees that they planted every day when they come to school,” he said.

Once they move on from elementary school, “they'll always have that connection back to the school,” Lutz said.

Baldwin, Whitehall and Brentwood boroughs each already have received free trees for their municipal properties from TreeVitalize Pittsburgh.

“Once you plant a tree, it's like you own that tree. You're always checking up on it and seeing how it's doing,” said Stephanie Miller, manager of projects and initiatives for Economic Development South.

The hallways at McAnnulty were filled with dirt after the planting, Principal DJ Emanuelson said. But neither he, nor the custodial staff minded, because they knew how much fun the kids had, he said.

“They couldn't get enough of it,” he said.

The students understood that it was more than just play time, though. It was about learning and helping the environment.

“It helps the earth,” said Kristina Cord, 7. “Trees can always be nice and pretty.”

There are many ways to help the environment, planting a tree is just one of them, Kristina said.

Cecilia Sabo, 6, said helping save the earth should start outside. Her sister, Samantha, 2, got a bucket and seeds for Easter, because she likes to plant.

“Trees help us with everything, so we should start planting more trees,” Cecilia said.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or

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