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PS 811 fills void in ground by planting new 9/11 tree

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Students and staff of Little Neck’s PS 811 left a large hole in the ground outside the Marathon Parkway school for weeks, hoping the empty space would symbolize the loss felt after a tree they planted in honor of the Sept. 11 anniversary was stolen.

The void was filled last Thursday when about 60 people turned out for a tree-planting ceremony to replace the blue spruce stolen from PS 811 last month. The original tree was taken less than a day after the school held a memorial ceremony in honor of the victims of last September’s terror attacks.

Principal Joan Washington, who heads the school that serves mildly to severely disabled students from throughout Queens, said the theft of the original Sept. 11 tribute tree and its subsequent replacement were life lessons.

“We have learned that good can come out of bad,” Washington told a crowd of about 60 students, staff members and community residents.

The new tree was provided by the city Department of Environmental Protection, which offered to replace the stolen tree under a DEP program that provides trees to schools for Sept. 11 memorials.

DEP Commissioner Christopher Ward said it was a privilege to join the school in planting its new memorial tree, an American Red Bud donated from the DEP’s nurseries. The agency also gave PS 811 a blue spruce to replace the stolen one.

“It’s not about us, it’s about them,” Ward said of the PS 811 students, who helped plant the American Red Bud in the hole left by the pilfering of the first memorial tree. “To see their leadership and strength ... is just inspiring.”

Ward said the American Red Bud would be harder to steal than the small blue spruce that was taken.

“This has a much larger [root] ball, it’s heavier,” said Ward, who promised to come back when the tree flowers. “It will be harder to steal.”

John McLaughlin, director of ecological services for the DEP, said the American Red Bud, with its heart-shaped leaves, would flower in the spring and be an appropriate memorial tree.

Washington joined the excited students in planting the new tree and praised the DEP for the donation.

“We’re just so pleased with the response,” she said.

Music teacher Barbara Tetenbaum, who helped organize the school’s ceremony marking the first anniversary of the terror attacks, said people should have faith in the city.

“You think city agencies don’t respond? Well, they do,” she said.

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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