This article is about a group of middle school students who took an active role in helping to improve the natural habitat of oak trees that border the Stanislaus River not too far from their community of Stockton in San Joaquin County, California. For a project, students researched local and state environmental concerns and decided to focus on replenishing oak trees. Students were familiar with oak trees, because of a nearby city park, called Oak Park. Students observed that the trees were very old and produced few acorns. One student remembered how his grandfather talked about, "The oak trees in Oak Park were beautiful. For many years they offered many days of perfect shade from the harsh hot sun of the Central Valley."
Currently, there are 240 students, in grades 6 to 8, enrolled at the Langston Hughes Academy in Stockton, California. They are from predominately poor, impoverished neighborhoods in Stockton. The diverse population includes 43% Hispanic, 38% African- American, 7% Caucasian and 12% other racial/ethnic group students. 85% of the student population qualifies for free or reduced-cost lunches based on federal guidelines. The Langston Hughes Academy is located on the campus of California State University, Stanislaus in Stockton. The Langston Hughes Academy teachers and California State University, Stanislaus faculty are actively involved in engaging students in meaningful learning through problem-posing activities, authentic experiences, utilizing detailed feedback about the learning process and creating a highly functional and safe "College for Certain" learning environment.
Can children make a difference in their community?
The students at the Langston Hughes Academy wanted to do something to make a difference in their broader community. So, the students brainstormed about what they could do to make a positive contribution. In the brainstorming sessions, they realized there were numerous problems that needed to be addressed. Their concerns varied from bad drinking water, lack of recreational activities, dangerous streets, violence, and drugs, but overwhelmingly, students were interested in environmental issues. During their discussions, the students created a list of the environmental issues/challenges in the area, researched the topics, and had discussions with their classmates. Five environmental themes emerged from the classroom dialogues:
1. Smog can cause serious health problems for people.
2. Industrial waste has polluted the rivers and lakes.
3. Pesticides can be harmful and contaminate the food we eat and pollute our water.
4. Forest fires have destroyed many of the valuable woodland areas.
5. Oak trees have been neglected, so many of them have disappeared.
The students chose to address the issue of the demise of the oak trees along the Stanislaus River. They decided to create the Valley Oak Tree Project for the City of Stockton, San Joaquin County and the Army Corps of Engineers. They wanted to develop ways to significantly replenish the number of oak trees in order to nurture the environment and create beautiful, healthy surroundings for the future.
Oak trees historically date back thousands of years. However, they were very important resources during the Gold Rush and the building of the transcontinental railroad system. Pioneers used the wood from the oak trees, because of its sturdiness, beautiful grain and coloring, for furniture as well as other practical items like firewood. The fruit of the oak tree is the acorn. Acorns are plentiful and serve as rich food supplies for many animals that live in the Sacramento/San Joaquin Valley habitat. California Native Americans used the acorns as a nutritional food supplement.
History-Social Science Standards
Historical and Social Sciences Analysis Skills: Kindergarten - 5th grades
Chronological and Spatial Thinking 2 and Historical Interpretation 2
Standards: 1. …