J. Sterling Morton created the first Arbor Day in 1872, 1142 years ago. Thirty years ago Ogden City was designated as an official “Tree City” and began formal Arbor Day celebration tradition. Last year, Ogden Preparatory Academy joined Ogden City for its Arbor Day celebration and this year we continued our emerging tree planting tradition.
Friday was Arbor Day and, I must admit, I began the day with less than a stellar attitude. It was not a regular work day for me; I did not have to go to school; I would not be getting paid. I had (still have) a thousand or so things at home screaming to be done and I did not look forward to supervising 70 thirteen and fourteen year olds all day on the river. Last year I took 30 students and had a fabulous experience but the difference in group dynamics between 30 and 70 is huge. I simply anticipated a tense day of student monitoring, trying to get them to work and keeping them from crossing the line that separates acceptable, fun behavior from unacceptable, goofing-off behavior.
I was wrong. So wrong.
It was a fabulous day. So fabulous. The kids were so, so good and worked so, so hard. I have never worked with a large group of students that has worked so hard for so long. Generally junior high service projects have a small group of really hard workers, a large group of "social" workers (who chat as much or more than they work), and a small group of goof-offs who manage to look busy but really do not do much. Not so with this group. They worked hard. HARD. Almost most all of them. All day long. They worked in groups, they worked in pairs, they worked alone. It was especially amazing to me to see them working alone. When you see a kid digging through sod, pulling out gravel, shoveling dirt by him/herself you know it is work—there is no social involved—the student is there to accomplish a task.
Friday my students were there to accomplish a task…and they did. By 10:30 they’d done everything the organizers thought it would take them all day to finish. Two city workers told me that by 10:30 they’d done more than 400 Scouts had done during an entire day of volunteering two weeks earlier. Those in charge brought in 100 more plants for my students to put in the ground and they were done with those by 1:30. They dug holes, swung pick axes, shoveled compost, carried rocks, and planted trees. When they ran out of things to plant, they pulled weeds, chopped thistles, and dug up dandelions. Imagine getting a group of 70 teens to transition from tree planting (perceived fun) to weeding (perceived NOT fun) at the end of a full day of labor………..I did not think it would work but it did work and so did they, without complaint. Amazing.
We stopped at noon for a half hour lunch and again at 1:00 for a half hour Arbor Day Celebration Ceremony. Imagine 70 kids, sitting on rocks by a river, listening to the City Engineer read a proclamation from the Mayor. “Whereas…………….Whereas…………….Whereas………….Whereas………….” EEK! But, again, they were awesome. They sat quietly, listened respectfully (though there were a few tic-tac-toe games being played in the dirt), and cheered appropriately. And, when it was over, they went back to work, willingly.
Watching them, I fell in love with them. Every one of them. Individually. Little J, probably weighing not more than 75 lbs, jumping on her shovel head, trying to force it into the ground…….Big A, carrying the digging rod (that probably weighed almost 75 lbs) everywhere he went and using it effectively……R alone on the river bank, diligently digging a hole for his sapling……….The “A” team—O and J, two twig-like girls—manhandling a huge tree into an even larger hole…….S swinging a pick ax…..K and J on their hands and knees, patting compost into place…..B and J working together to remove a almost-boulder from a planting site……M with her FBI hat……..V in his filthy socks……….M in her flowered gloves……A, who had an acute ear infection and returned to school probably sooner than he should have, hauling compost in a wheel barrow…….A and G gently massaging a reluctant tree from its planting pot….
Watching them made my heart swell so much it ached. Honestly. I wish you could have seen them. I wish the world could have seen them. People need to know who fabulous our youth are.