Picture it: a mob of angry protesters gathered around a construction site, chanting at the workers who try to go on about their business. Security guards stand poised to intervene if necessary, asking protesters to back up and not touch the gate. The group’s leader presents one of the workers with a petition. Then, as if by magic, a bell rings and the protesters disperse. Recess is over and it’s time to go back to class.
This was the scene at Princess’s elementary school this morning, and the “security guard” was just me, doing my weekly shift at her parent-participation school. The school, you see, is getting solar panels, as are all the schools in our district. Environmental impact aside, these panels will enable the district to generate most of their own power, saving millions of dollars that we can funnel back into our classrooms. The panels, most agree, are a good thing.
However, solar panels only work when they get sunlight, and it seems that a tree in the area where the panels will go is creating too much shade. Students who play in the tree’s shade are upset, and they don’t really care that the construction company will plant new trees in a different area or that the school and the environment will benefit from the solar panels. At morning recess, a 3rd grader circulated a petition asking to “Save the trees Plese!”
Princess’s 1st grade classes soon took up the cause, bemoaning the loss of their beloved tree. They went back to class on fire, and their teacher allowed them to use part of their weekly class meeting time to discuss the trees. By lunch recess, there was no stopping them as they surrounded the tree holding hands, placing flowers (mostly dandelions) at the tree’s base for a “funeral” for the tree, and then marching to the fence shouting “Save our tree! Save our tree!” Misinformation was rampant—one girl was nearly in tears at the thought of the tree being cut down on her birthday in two days, another boy was sure the workers would come back on the weekend or when school was out so kids wouldn’t see them cut it down. “Where did you get that information?” I asked. “From my own brain!” he answered. I started to feel like I was watching campaign ads for the upcoming election.
Still, there was something sweet about their protest, and I was filled with pride at how confident they were that they had a voice, how sure they were that by circulating a petition and peacefully protesting, they could save the tree. And I started to hope they were right. It would be a shame if their youthful enthusiasm and unwavering confidence in their ability to make a difference was smashed by the necessary removal of the tree.
I pulled the foreman aside. “So, what’s the deal with the tree?” I asked. “Well, don’t say anything,” he answered. “But I’m going to see if we can leave it. Maybe if we just keep it trimmed.”
I certainly hope so. I’m not sure what will happen if the students come to school tomorrow and find the tree gone. I suppose I should just be grateful it’s not my day to work!