Students plant trees with Nobel Peace Prize winner

Prepared with shovels, smiles, and song, nearly 75 students from Gatewood Elementary School, the African American Academy, Denny Middle School, and Chief Sealth High School greeted Green Belt Movement founder, Wangari Maathai, at Pelly Place Ravine recently for a tree planting ceremony.

The ceremony was just one of a daylong schedule of programs called Project Earth Care, which was part of an even larger project. According to Peter McGraw, public information officer for the department of neighborhoods, "Today's event celebrates a unique, six-month curriculum involving students from four diverse schools. This project was a long, intensive, restorative effort to improve the ravine."

He said his department contributed $15,000, and the community donated an additional $28,000 in cash, volunteer labor, and goods.

Following a well-prepared song and break-dancing routine performed by the students for Maathai, some parents, teachers, and other guests, they joined Maathai in planting several small trees in the ravine. Pelly Place Ravine is located just north of Lincoln Park. "It is so beautiful to be planting small trees under big trees, and I am so happy to see children restore areas that need more trees," said Maathai, a 2004 Nobel Prize Laureate from Kenya. She said her movement's mission was to plant a billion trees around the world. "We have to take care of the planet so that it can take care of us," she said.

Maathai, who sits on the board of the Jane Goodall Institute and the Women and Environment Development Organization, told the students her interest in the environment was sparked at a young age when, she said, "I first touched the soil while helping my mother garden. I was the age of many here, so while this experience today may seem small to you, it may change your life."

Gatewood Elementary School forth-grader Henry Hossner enjoyed the tree-planting ceremony because, he said, "I garden for fun sometimes, and I want to save the Earth."

Gatewood fifth-grader, Darian Boyer, said the event was more than just fun, and was impressed with Maathai. "I will look up to her and try to follow in her footsteps. She shows that women can always stand up and not stand down, always follow your dreams, and don't give up."

Arielle Washington, a Chief Sealth sophomore and African American Academy alumna, coordinated the event and helped reel in the four schools. At the ceremony's conclusion, Washington said, "It was a wonderful event, and an honor to meet Professor Wangari Maathai. I first met with her yesterday to give her an introduction about the project. I told her that at first I wasn't exactly interested in the environment. Since organizing this, and meeting her, my perspective has changed and I share her mission to save the planet."

Steve Shay may be contacted at

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