Design for the Onesimo Hernandez Elementary campus in Dallas, one of two pilot schools in the Cool Schools Program. Courtesy of Texas Trees Foundation.

July 21, 2016

Some Dallas area elementary schools will be shadier and greener in the coming school year, thanks to the Texas Trees Foundation’s Cool Schools initiative.

Following a successful pilot program at Felix Botello Elementary and Onesimo Hernandez Elementary, the program will be implemented at 151 elementary schools in the Dallas Independent School District over the next 10 years, according to Cynthia Cook of Texas Trees Foundation.

The Texas Trees Foundation used a grant from the Boone Family Foundation to create the green program. The goal was to expand tree canopy cover at the schools and create outdoor learning environments providing a DISD-approved STEM-based curriculum to enhance experiential learning.

“The end result will be the transformation of 151 DISD elementary schools that will link indoor classrooms with outdoor learning for students and teachers, and ultimately planting over 15,000 new trees and shrubs to increase the overall tree canopy in the city of Dallas,” Cook said.

Dallas is ranked eighth by the American Lung Association for the worst air quality in the nation for ozone. Greater than 89,000 children in Dallas are affected by asthma. 

“These statistics can be mitigated by improving the urban tree canopy on our school campuses that will filter out particulates that cause pollution in the air,” said Cook.

Right now, 70 percent of Dallas area elementary schools have less than five percent tree canopy while a minimum of 27 percent is recommended to reduce exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays and air pollution according to statistics.  

“The Texas Trees Foundation’s ‘State of the Dallas Urban Forest Report’ confirmed that area school campuses are in dire need of improved tree canopies,” Cook said.

Felix Botello Elementary and Onesimo Hernandez Elementary were chosen for the pilot program this past school year after inventory and review of existing tree canopy and through discussions with school administration. By the end of the program, there were 89 trees planted at Botello and 84 at Hernandez. 

The final designs also include outdoor classroom/amphitheaters, naturescape play and learning areas, butterfly/hummingbird gardens, bird observation opportunitiess, pathways, expanded flower and vegetable gardens andrainwater filtration gardens. 

“It is our goal to design a plan for outdoor learning centers at each campus if funding for implementation is available,” Cook said. “The number of trees to be planted on future projects will be site specific and will vary in quantities.” 

In addition to reducing the heat island affect, the Cool Schools Program is designed to educate students on the values of trees.

Topics in the accompanying curriculum include tree identification; benefits of trees to the environment and to people; tree vocabulary and parts of a tree; how trees relate to the animal kingdom; trees as habitats; how to properly plant a tree; trees and soil; and how to measure a tree.

The program officially launches this fall and the Foundation anticipates completing projects at four schools during the 2016-2017 school year. 

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