Newburgh Free Academy West campus freshmen students along with members of the Garden Club of Orange and Dutchess Counties joined together at Downing Park to plant various bulbs at several city park memorials. The bulbs are anticipated to bloom in the springtime and the planting event served as an inaugural kick-off for the Root for Trees! Program.

The Root for Trees! program is an experiential, year-round educational program that immerses local students in an urban park setting and teaches tree and plant care, the importance of public green spaces and educates students on environmental job opportunities. In the Newburgh area, the program has seen success with San Miguel Academy students from last year.

For the planting, students and teachers met with garden club members at the Shelter House in Downing Park on Thursday, October 19. While there, the group went over what would be occurring during the afternoon period, discussed the Root for Trees program and students received personal tool kits and field notebooks that will carry them through the year. Each of the kits included several stickers, gardening tools, notebooks and an informational booklet.

“This is the beginning of a really great partnership that we started last year. Once we helped the ladies with the support to write the grant, and they were awarded the grant, we just started organizing experiences for the kids,” said art teacher Noelle Brand. “I think this is a great way to get them to make ties to their community that they might not have had before. Taking care of our earth is a huge part of what they [the students] need to do as they grow and become adults.”

After materials were collected, the students were divided into two groups to plant bulbs at two different military memorials in the park. One was the Civil War Memorial located along Route 9W, and the other military memorial was located near the corner of Third Street and Carpenter Avenue.

“I like doing hands-on stuff. When I heard we were coming out here to like plant stuff I was like, “I get to sit in the dirt and dig holes, it’s gonna be great,” said freshmen Keira Kingsley. “This [Downing Park] is a great place, it’s really pretty. It’s always a great place to go to.”

“I honestly think that I found something new that I would like to do as a hobby. And I see it as very fun, something new to do, to try. I think it’s really nice that they’re letting us try something new today,” said freshman Mau;re Hagen. “I feel like it’s really important to take care of it [Downing Park] because obviously, you want your community to look good and to make sure that there’s lots of green going on, because there’s a lot of like, deforestation, stuff like that.”

Since 2021, the Garden Club has collaborated with The City of Newburgh, The Downing Park Conservancy, The Downing Park Urban Farm, San Miguel Academy, The Olmsted Network, and now, NFA West students and teachers are the newest partners. Also notable has been the securing of $31,000 in grant money for Downing Park in the past three years and the countless hours of volunteer time.

The afternoon concluded with cider and treats provided by the garden club before students made their way back to West campus. “It’s a beautiful day. I love Downing Park and I think it’s great to get the kids involved for the next generation to make it an even better and more special place,” said Buffy Heldt.

This story was written by Alberto Gilman and originally published by The Times Hudson Valley Media. It has been republished with permission. You can read the original article here.