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City to replace 9/11 spruce stolen from Queens school

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The city Department of Environmental Protection has offered to replace a Sept. 11 memorial tree that was stolen from in front of Little Neck’s PS 811 last month.

In September the school community gathered to commemorate the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks by planting a symbolic blue spruce tree, surrounded by small American flags.

Less than 24 hours later the spruce was stolen, leaving a large hole in the ground in front of the Marathon Parkway school and a shocked staff inside, Principal Joan Washington said. PS 811 serves students from throughout Queens who are mildly to severely disabled.

Upon learning of the theft, the city DEP knew what to do.

“Our first thought was ‘we’re going to replace that tree,’” DEP spokeswoman Natalie Milner said Monday.

The new memorial tree could be in place as early as this week, said Washington, who said the DEP was not the only group to come forward with an offer to help.

“We had three offers,” said the principal, who said the other two offers included a teacher and a custodian at PS 811. “We’re moved by the goodness out there.”

The DEP offer comes as part of an initiative by the agency to provide memorial trees to other city agencies and groups seeking a way to pay tribute to the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, Milner said.

Christopher Ward, commissioner of the DEP, said in a news statement about the memorial tree program last month that the plants would be ideal for schools.

“Several years ago DEP started a tree nursery project that would help beautify the grounds at some of its wastewater treatment plants,” Ward said. “Many of our nursery’s trees are long-lived trees that are suitable for use by schools as memorials.”

To mark the first anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, the school staff joined with the students for a special assembly and tree-planting ceremony designed to create a spirit of unity within the school, Washington said.

After an assembly on Sept. 11 last month, about 25 students — some in wheelchairs, some using arm braces to aid them in walking — helped plant the tree, which was bought after students decided to use class funds that would ordinarily go to activities such as a class pizza party for the purchase.

While teachers and staff at PS 811 were stunned by the theft, Washington and others said, they struggled to use the incident as a lesson about life.

The offers to replace the tree have been another step in the educational process, Washington said.

“They’re thrilled,” Washington said of the students. “Of course, they’re nervous, though. They want to know how to protect it.”

The principal said the offers to help allowed educators to show the students “there is more good in this world than evil.”

“Even though we were hurt, we’re being helped,” she said. “We’re learning that people do care.”

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

Posted 7:24 pm, October 10, 2011
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