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I Sit And Look Out: Rego Park teacher, students plant a new tree every year

Nancy Wolf, who coordinates New York City Arbor Day — observed April 30 — told me that one of the most enthusiastic regulars each year is Pat Evens, a kindergarten teacher in PS 174, the William Sidney Mount School, in the Crescents section of Rego Park. Evens and her students have created a small arboretum with the successful planting of Arbor Day trees for many years.

In honor of Evens’ and her students’ work, in the spring of 2009 the Bartlett Tree Co. donated a large specimen tree — a Kwanzan cherry cloned from those in Washington, D.C.’s Tidal Basin — to the school. As Wolf put it, this larger tree and all the smaller ones are “cherished by those at PS 174 and are well-cared for by the custodians at the school.”

Evens’ students wrote a thank-you letter, read it at the ceremony and presented it to the company.

I had the pleasure of meeting Evens, all too briefly, a number of months ago. I was immediately impressed by her enthusiasm for teaching and the way she seemed to reach each of her students in a personal way. It made me feel good about the state of education in our city.

Evens began teaching at PS 174 in the early 1990s and each year she has stressed the importance of trees and nature and has done plantings with her students. First, it was with shrubs obtained from the state Department of Conservation Forestry Service. For many years, Evens has worked with Wolf as part of Arbor Day.

Once the tree arrives, it stays in Evens’ classroom for a couple of weeks. The children vote on a name. They measure how tall it is, using cubes and links. They compare their own heights to it. They count and observe the leaves. They take turns watering it. Evens said, “They get excited when they see a little rolly-polly bug or worm hiding in the soil.”

The custodial crew helps with the planting. All examine the root ball before it goes into the ground. The children enjoy filling up the hole with soil. Then they circle the tree and chant, “Grow big and grow strong!” For the remainder of the semester, all are involved in making sure the tree is properly cared for.

One year, Evens told me, one of her students moved away at the end of the school year. She wrote to Evens in September, asking about “Mikey,” the tree she had helped plant and care for. Evens took pictures of the tree and sent them to her.

One year, Evens’ class named the tree after a student’s new baby sister, Briana. When Briana came to kindergarten some years later, she was introduced to Briana the tree, which is still growing strong in the school garden. Briana then had the same experience caring for the tree that her big brother had years before.

No wonder Evens and her students were cited for their exceptional devotion to trees and nature.

Many years ago, when I was employed, my job put me in close touch with many teachers on all grade levels in New York City in private, public and parochial schools. As I used to tell people about my experience, I would say, “I am most fortunate. I meet and work with only the best teachers.”

Evens is one of the best and everyone who cares about the world we live in should be happy to be around when she and her students are working their magic at the William Sidney Mount School.

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