Vandalism leads to learning opportunity

Students plant apple saplings to replace vandalized trees


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Seventh grader Jacob Phillips prepares to plant an apple tree on the grounds of Mirror Lake Middle School.

STAR PHOTO BY MATT TUNSETH

When vandals arrived on the grounds of Mirror Lake Middle School with a four-wheeler last fall, they did more than just tear up a little grass. They also destroyed nearly a decade’s worth of growth at a small apple orchard near the school.

“They just ran these things over repeatedly,” said Mirror Lake teacher Mike Hansen, pointing to a couple of the surviving trees.

Instead of mourning the loss of at least half of the trees that he’d planted there over the years, Hansen used the vandalism as a way to help some Mirror Lake students leave a lasting legacy at the middle school in Peters Creek.

Last week, Hansen brought a team of seventh graders (“The Rip Tides”) out to the courtyard armed with shovels, rakes and about a dozen apple tree saplings donated by fellow teacher Lauren Bradley, whose family owns a small orchard.

“They have their own orchard, and they have given us a few trees,” he said.

As he spoke, about two dozen seventh graders poured out of Mirror Lake and began attacking the dirt. Within minutes, several small holes had been dug, and the students went about the task of planting the new trees in the ground.

Hansen said he wanted to find a way to give the kids a hands-on way to study the life cycle of plants, and could think of no better way than for the students to help start a new cycle of growth.

“It just fits right in to what we’re doing,” he said.

Hansen, who said he’s retiring after this year, also wanted to leave something behind at the school he helped open 15 years ago.

“I wanted to give something back,” he said.

Hansen’s students took to the planting project with gusto. Most came up with names for their trees (one was “Cloud,” another “Kevin”) before burying the roots deep in the ground and covering the holes back with topsoil.

Students Serena Shields and Rachel Kumpost decided to name their tree Kevin for a fairly logical reason.

“He just looks like a Kevin,” Shields said.

Although the students seemed to be playing more than learning — many appeared as interested in finding earthworms as planting trees — Shields said she’s learned a lot about plants over the past few weeks.

“We’ve learned a lot, like what kind of things pollinate plants to make them grow,” she said.

The girls said they’ve learned what conditions are needed to ensure plants are able to grow and thrive.

“They need water, dirt, sunlight…” Shields said.

“…and pollination,” Kumpost finished.

Hansen said the trees should be ready to bear fruit by next fall, meaning the same students who planted the trees likely will be able to harvest them when they return to Mirror Lake as eighth graders.

“Some of them will already have apples,” he said.

Hansen said the school district plans to install more large metal barriers around the courtyard area to keep future vandals from destroying the fledgling trees.

In the mean time, he said he’ll be doing his best to keep an even more pesky varmint from ravaging the tasty trees.

“The moose are the biggest vandals of all,” he said.

 

Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or matt.tunseth@alaskastar.com

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