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Lakewood City School District students including Andrew Winters, 14, Lauren Lamparyk, 12, and Eliza Dreger, 15, planted more than 300 tree saplings that were later delivered to kindergarteners across the district.

Lakewood’s tree canopy has taken a hit over the years and while city officials have started to make improvements, it’s going to take more to reverse the damage.

Teachers and students in the Lakewood City School District wanted to help by packing and delivering 350 tree saplings to every kindergartener in the district. Led by the Harding Middle School Green Team, the goal was to get the youngsters excited about the environment early.

“We want to teach these students how to be good stewards of the planet,” said organizer Diane Quimper. “It teaches them that they can do this one thing that can make a difference.”

A city’s tree canopy is the layer of leaves, branches and trunks of trees that cover the ground when viewed from above.

The Milestone Project included 16 students and teachers who gathered to pack the tree saplings for delivery to Lakewood kindergarteners. Packing took place on Oct. 20 at Harding Middle School’s baseball field. Teachers delivered the saplings the next day to children at Emerson, Grant, Harrison, Hayes, Lincoln, Horace Mann and Roosevelt elementary schools, said district spokesperson Christine Gordillo.

Each tree was packed in small pots and wrapped. Along with the sapling, kindergarteners received a learning packet and a comic book designed by Harding Middle School STEM teacher Laura Balliet. The comic shows why trees are important to the earth, while the packet explains how to care for the tree. The children also learned about trees and their importance before receiving their saplings.

The tree sapling is a hybrid poplar and is expected to live 50 to 60 years. The tree can grow up to 6 feet annually and is native to northern Ohio. The saplings were donated by Lynn Yanyo, of Tree4All, as well as Fox Farm Nurseries, friends of the Lakewood Green Team.

“This is a milestone tree,” Balliett said. “They’re starting their educational journey here and they get to grow with it. Hopefully by senior year, the students can have the tree as a symbol of their accomplishments.”

If a kindergartener does not have a yard to plant their tree, one will be planted at their school instead, Quimper said.

The green team also received help from members of H2O (Help to Others), a group dedicated to community service. For volunteer Amara Deyo-Flagg, 17, a Lakewood High School senior, these trees also have sentimental value.

“It’s my last year in the district and it’s their first year. I want to make an impact on their lives,” she said. “I hope they enjoy their time here. It really does go by too fast. That’s not a lie when they tell you that.”

Last year, it was discovered that the city had lost 18.5% of its tree canopy, according to a countywide study that looked at data between 2011 and 2017 to find changes in Cuyahoga County’s canopy.

“About 75% of the canopy loss in Lakewood has been on private property,” Quimper said.”We’re hoping some of these trees make it to people’s back yards and help rebuild this canopy and offset carbon and help with energy savings.”

The loss in canopy is the highest loss in the county. Other cities, such as Rocky River, Westlake and Bay Village, also lost between 1.5% and 10% of their tree canopy, according to the assessment.

A tree canopy plays a crucial role in helping the neighborhood, including reducing carbon emissions and lowering energy bills during the summer as the shade prevents cement and homes from locking in heat.

Trees particularly help with reducing stormwater runoff, a major issue for Lakewood due to its aging sewers. The nearly 100-year-old system was not designed to handle large storm events.

Now, the city is on track to plant 400 new trees in the community this year. Officials have also implemented a plan to increase Lakewood’s canopy by 10% by 2035, according to information from the city.

Quimper believes that the more people on board with increasing the city’s canopy, the higher the chance of making that goal a reality.

“Our trees in our community, especially in urban areas, are extremely important,” she said. “Someone has to do it, and teaching these kids how to build compassion for nature is one of the ways to do so.”

Contact this reporter at akamczyc@westlifenews.com or 216-307-6614.

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