Trees, Schools, and Tree Davis

By Torin Dunnavant

To make communities green, many feel that schools are the priority. Having healthy, well shaded outdoor spaces for young people to play and learn is a critical path forward, especially for communities that otherwise are plagued by air pollution, urban heat and other environmental issues. School districts are one of the largest landholders in our cities, that offer great opportunities for transforming urban spaces from gray to green. Not only do trees make a positive impact on the environment, they also have been proven to have positive effects on student learning and test scores by lessening stress and improving memory retention. 

However, there are obstacles. School districts have an array of priorities – student safety, academic outcomes, meeting state standards, etc. Fostering a well treed and green campus is a long term outcome, and schools’ priorities are often directed toward the short term. Establishing a robust urban forest is an up-front investment, and that is an investment that school districts are not often able to make.

Students and staff from the Washington Middle College High School cohort of the Climate-Ready Education Program at the Alyce Norman Playfields planting, 3/24/23
Davis students from the Climate-Ready Education program


Tree Davis has been able to partner with schools and school districts over the years, planting and distributing trees in the thousands to schools like Davis High, Korematsu Elementary, and Harper Middle. But as supportive as teachers, principals and district staff have been, it has always been difficult to transform campuses.

Thankfully, the State of California recognizes the need for school campuses to have robust urban forests and is supporting efforts to make things better. Tree Davis is working on one school focused grant – our Climate-Ready Education program – where we are engaging with high school students to grow their appreciation for urban forestry and community action, and planting and caring for trees with them. We have been working with the students for about a year now, and it has been a deeply rewarding experience. Seeing how passionate young people are about improving their schools and their communities is inspiring.

Tree Davis is about to embark on a new venture, the Cool Schools Yolo partnership, working together with the Texas Trees Foundation and the Woodland Tree Foundation to radically upgrade the green footprint of school campuses. The partnership will be focusing on five school campuses in West Sacramento and five in Woodland, bringing green oases to environmentally impacted neighborhoods. The transformations will be both physical and social.

The schools will receive hundreds of new trees, irrigation, rain gardens, outdoor classrooms, new playgrounds, more green space through removed asphalt and so much more. These changes will be driven by the communities – students, teachers, principals, parents and neighbors will guide the changes.

Map of activation areas for Riverbank Elementary

And while the transformations will be occurring, staff from the will be working with the students and the teachers to highlight the reasons for the change, taking the opportunity while doing the physical work to create social change. The project will ensure the long-term viability by funding five years of ongoing care. 

This project is also funded by CAL FIRE, but through a new program, called the Schoolyard Greening grant – which they have invested over $120 million into for this cycle. It is the perfect opportunity for Tree Davis to bring its special blend of scientific knowledge and community engagement. The project will begin at the start of 2024.

Tree Davis staff and board are excited to take on these ventures. Schools truly are the key to greening our communities, both by engaging the students and by transforming the campuses. With support and investments from CAL FIRE and Tree Davis donors, change is coming.

Please consider making a donation to Tree Davis today to support our education programs.

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