On Oct. 22, Wilson Avenue Public school, together with Sustainable Waterloo Region (SWR), AET Group Inc., Ernst & Young and the grade six students at the school, planted 100 native species of trees and shrubs on school property.
SWR is a non-profit committed to making local businesses more environmentally friendly.
It defines a microforest as a small area of land that has returned to its natural state through the planting of native trees and shrubs. They are planted on on-developable land and can be as small as 500 square feet.
“Our community really uses our schoolyard as a place to meet during school time, but also in the evenings and on the weekends and it’s just a great partnership for us to see the school being used as a community hub,” Elizabeth Martz, principal of Wilson Avenue Public School, said.
In the fall of 2021, SWR launched their first microforest project.
Their goal is to encourage organizations across the Waterloo Region to donate land which trees can be planted. Each microforest consists of 11 different native species of trees and shrubs of various sizes.
Five Waterloo Region District School Board schools will plant micoforests by the end of this year.
Each project costs around $5,000 and many of the native specifies are expected to be fully grown in the next 20 or 30 years. The school’s students, faculty, staff and community members will be the stewards of the trees and shrubs.
“In the last two years, we have had to make a pivot in learning and [the forest] will help us do that. It’s small now, but in decades to come we’ll be able to use it as a learning space for the community and for the school,” Cole Korte, grade 6 teacher at the school, said.
Wilson Avenue Public Elementary school first opened its doors to students in 1956. Currently there are about 480 students.
The grade six students were part of the leadership team that planted the trees on school ground. They are one of many schools who have partnered with SWR to use parts of their land to host these microforests.
This ambitious project began during the summer on a whim. Korte applied to Sustainable Waterloo for a grant. The goal is to plant more than 100 native trees and shrubs planted at different school areas in the Sustainable Waterloo Area (SWR).
As a recent Statistics Canada study found, Waterloo Region has successfully protected the amount of green space in the community over the past two decades.
Emma Fox, community engagement manager at Sustainable Waterloo Region, said that microforests serve many purposes in a community. They are both good for decarbonization and beautification, while also being a valuable learning resource for children at the school.
“They’re great for kids to learn as well, which is why it’s great to do with school because they come out and they can learn to identify trees learn how to take care of trees,” Fox said.
“[We] had to kind of reimagine what the conventional classroom looks like, over the last few years with COVID-19. And so, this will offer space for us to kind of transition outside for parts for programming for the kids all sorts of new opportunities outside,” Korte said.
The forest will absorb heat from nearby parking lots, reduce storm water runoff and provide a natural habitat for wildlife. All this while the schools are able to use the space for outdoor activities and learning.
“With COVID-19 we’ve really had to rethink how we teach but also where we teach…But we’re always looking for more community connections,” Korte said.
“[We hope for] it to be a well-loved community playground, that [the community] is learning how to take care of the environment when they come to play,” he said.