Lee HS Students Plant Trees, Take Action Against Climate Change

By Communication and Community Relations Staff
Senior Spotlight
November 11, 2019

students planting a treeVirginia Master Naturalist Monica Perz-Waddington said she was spurred to action by a Washington Post article from January about how to talk to children about climate change. The outdoor educator and Lee High School parent volunteer said, “The article emphasized the need to give children agency for change, some concrete action that will give them hope for the future rather than teaching mass extinction and irreversible global warming.”

With the article in mind, and in response to the United Nations climate reports and the Fairfax County Green Initiative, Perz-Waddington began working with Lee High School and other schools in the pyramid to give students hands-on opportunities to improve planet health. All nine schools in the Lee pyramid have agreed to plant new trees on their campuses this school year.

Individual schools across Fairfax County have been planting trees on their properties to increase ecological landscaping with the support of Fairfax County Public Schools’ Department of Facilities and Transportation Services. However, Waddington felt that a larger-scale effort was needed to address the urgency of the climate crisis. She worked with the Fairfax County Urban Forestry Division (FCUFD) to procure funding for new trees. Lee High School, Key Middle School, and Forestdale Elementary School received grants from the county’s Tree Preservation and Planting Fund to install new trees on their campuses this fall. Lee High School students planted their first group of trees on Thursday, November 7.

Rachel Clausen, Lee HS International Baccalaureate (IB) science teacher, says, “The goal of these trees is to support active environmental and climate change education at Lee HS. There will be IB science students as leaders helping to organize the event with Mrs. Perz-Waddington and the support of my ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) science teacher collaborator Marina Dewees. My role as the main teacher contact has been to involve our new environmental science course in this service learning and tie it directly with our academic learning.” 

Students have been learning about the water and carbon cycle and will start a twice-yearly event of measuring the trees.  She adds, “The long-term plan is for them and future environmental science students to track the annual changes in tree diameter (DBH) and height.” The measurements will help track tree growth and health, and students will calculate carbon storage and make connections to the process of how planting trees can help combat climate change. “I hope the students walk away from these experiences feeling like stewards of their community and that they can—as individuals and as a group—make a difference in our environment.”

The hope is that the success of the efforts in the Lee Pyramid will encourage every school in FCPS to plant new trees as well. Planting trees supports the FCPS Portrait of a Graduate by nurturing ethical and global citizens. Through action, students can gain hope, increase their self-efficacy and resilience, gain a better understanding of their role in supporting the Fairfax County Green Initiative, all while increasing the tree canopy in Fairfax County and being a part of a global youth movement for a sustainable future.

According to Clausen, next steps include establishing a Lancer Outdoor Lab compost and building a butterfly garden in spring 2020. She adds, “Between these additional trees and this new butterfly garden, we will be working to become an Eco-Schools certified schoolyard habitat and applying for the Bronze Level Eco-School Award from National Wildlife Federation.”  Clausen expressed appreciation for support from the Lee administration, grounds staff, custodial staff, local master naturalists and gardners, Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District, Fairfax County Stormwater Management, and FCPS Get2Green for providing time, supplies, and support.