By Maureen Robertson
Ramona Elementary students got their hands dirty, learned some history, and were quick to answer questions about trees, power lines, fire and shade when San Diego Gas & Electric representatives spent the morning with them.
“We want this to be something you can look back on and say, ‘when I was a kid, I was here, I planted this tree,’” Don Akau, SDG&E vegetation management program manager, said before five dignitaries threw the first shovels of dirt to secure a tree in the ground. “When you put a tree in the ground, you’re planting it for life. It gives life to those that have life...so, as you dig in today, think about what you’re doing, putting life into the ground. Thank you for letting us be part of that.”
The utility company selected Ramona Elementary for what SDG&E certified arborist Jimmie Webb called its signature Arbor Day celebration this year. SDG&E donated 20 trees, and students helped plant them throughout the campus on April 27. Twelve fruitless mulberries, three purple leaf plums, three Southern magnolias and two red flowering eucalyptus were planted.
The day started with an all-school outdoor assembly with SDG&E experts presenting information about trees and the value of putting “the right tree in the right place.” Using props, SDG&E system forester Michael Daleo had students portray a tree canopy, a tree trunk and tree roots during a question-and-answer session that reviewed the importance of each.
“There’s one difference between us and trees,” he said. “They can’t go to the fast food store and get anything to eat. They actually have to make their own food.”
Thus began a lesson in photosynthesis.
“That’s a pretty big word, and it sounds really complicated, but it’s really not,” said Daleo.
“There’s only a few things that go into the recipe of a tree making its food. Does anyone know what a tree needs to make its own food?”
Sunlight, water and carbon dioxide, the students answered.
In addition to providing shade, trees take care of the environment, help to stabilize water in the soil, and filter elements in the air “so that we have clean, fresh oxygen,” Akau said.
SDG&E manages 400,000 trees within its service area and, Daleo said, “power lines and trees don’t mix. Why is that?”
“Fire!” students yelled.
Correct, Daleo responded, adding that an electrical outage may occur and, “if you’re in a tree...you can actually get shocked” if trees and power lines are too close.
He suggested a clearance of at least 10 feet.
“We have a real responsibility and you have a responsibility, too, when you’re planting trees to make sure they’re going to grow in an appropriate place.”
After more information was exchanged and the history of Arbor Day explained, all fifth- and sixth-graders and some second-, third- and fourth-graders formed teams to plant trees. The students also each received a T-shirt and at least one small bronze loquat they transplanted into a one-gallon container to take home.
Before the tree planting started, Ron Pennock from District 36 Sen. Joel Anderson’s office and Asher Burke, representing District 77 Assemblyman Brian Jones, presented certificates and congratulations to the students and administration.
On behalf of the National Arbor Day Foundation, Lynnette Short with CalFire’s Urban Forestry Program presented SDG&E with a Tree Line USA plaque “for being such good stewards of the trees that they maintain in their vegetation management program.”
After receiving instructions to “find your team leaders, grab your shovels and get your hands dirty,” serious planting began, with students taking turns until their group’s job was completed.
Fifth-grader Mario Torres was pleased with his contribution, saying, “we will have more shade.”
After SDG&E forester Dan Bohnett told his group “don’t be afraid to talk to the tree,” student Andrew Martinez volunteered that he had named the tree he had helped plant Mr. Buddy, “because he looks friendly.”
As one group neared completion, students in teacher Cecelia Byrne’s second- and third-grade class watched over the fence.
“I told them they could sneak a peek because they’re so interested,” Byrne said.