WALDORF, MD — In a groundbreaking initiative, staff and students from five Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) have embarked on a mission to leave a lasting legacy for generations. Planting 75 trees across these schools aims to create native tree canopies, mitigating the environmental impact of heat islands. The targeted schools—Theodore G. Davis, John Hanson, and Mattawoman middle schools, and North Point and Westlake high schools—are situated in urbanized zones known for increased concrete and buildings, contributing to higher temperatures and reduced nighttime cooling, common characteristics of heat islands.

Heat islands pose environmental challenges, including elevated daytime temperatures and heightened air pollution, health concerns, and adverse environmental effects. In response to these challenges, CCPS, in collaboration with the Nanjemoy Creek Environmental Education Center and forestry experts, has undertaken the tree-planting initiative. The selection of Eastern redbuds, American sycamores, white oaks, and other native trees is a strategic move to establish resilient urban tree canopies.

Commissioners’ President Reuben B. Collins II, Esq., emphasized the significance of such endeavors, drawing parallels between legacy and planting trees. “For a man, there are three ways to maintain your legacy. One is, of course, to have a child. The second is to write a book. And the third is to plant a tree,” he remarked.

Students actively participated in the tree-planting process, with the Elite Black Men (EBM) group at Westlake High School taking charge. The EBM members dedicated about an hour to ensure proper planting, guided by forestry staff and the Student Conservation Association (SCA), known for its hands-on environmental conservation programs for young individuals. Westlake senior Nasir Shakur expressed pride in the EBM’s collective effort, stating, “I think my EBM brothers did an amazing job — working as a whole, working as brothers to plant the trees successfully.”

Tim Emhoff, environmental education resource teacher at Nanjemoy Creek Environmental Center, highlighted the initiative’s alignment with ongoing outdoor learning programs. Gina McCullough, environmental education assistant, was pivotal in coordinating the tree-planting program for CCPS.

Beyond the immediate environmental impact, the Resilience Authority of Charles County secured grants totaling $25,000 from the Maryland Urban and Community Forest Committee. This funding, in collaboration with the Student Conservation Authority, led to the creation of the Resilience Authority Youth Corps (RAYC). The RAYC Ahead initiative, supported by the SCA, will provide paid job training and environmental programming for CCPS high school students and young adults responsible for maintaining the newly planted urban tree canopies.

Commissioner President Collins addressed those involved in the tree-planting effort, stating, “You are establishing a legacy for your future here today and your legacy overall. That’s something you have to mull over and appreciate because these trees will reflect you and your legacy.”

Looking ahead, CCPS plans to sustain this momentum by partnering with the Resilience Authority, the county government, the Maryland Forestry Service, the Student Conservation Association, and Maryland’s 5 Million Trees Initiative. The Resilience Authority has outlined plans to plant another urban tree canopy at Thomas Stone High School this spring, continuing the commitment to fostering sustainability and resilience within the community.

David M. Higgins II is an award-winning journalist passionate about uncovering the truth and telling compelling stories. Born in Baltimore and raised in Southern Maryland, he has lived in several East...

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