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Frederick Mayor Michael O’Connor, left, lends a hand to a group of North Frederick Elementary School students who planted a white oak tree at the school Wednesday in celebration of Arbor Day.

North Frederick Elementary School students learned about plants and the environment, sang an upbeat song and helped city officials plant a new tree on Wednesday to celebrate Arbor Day.

While Arbor Day is celebrated on April 26, the school was happy to host the celebration before students take their spring break. The ceremony also coincided with the school’s celebration of its science, technology, engineering and mathematics program, which invited parents to visit the school to learn about what their children have been studying and allowed students to watch the launching of several model rockets from the school’s athletic field.

By the time the school gathered around the blacktop area next to the back parking lot for buses, most of the young students were smiling and pointing excitedly at the juvenile white oak tree planted in a patch of dirt nearby.

“It’s really a fun experience,” said Kimberly Seiss, the school’s principal, talking about the day. “I think the kids will really remember a special event like this, and helping them make fun and happy memories is really the most important part for me.”

Education was also a high priority, Seiss said, adding that, before the Arbor Day ceremony, the students focused on plant- and tree-related topics in their lessons. For example, the school’s prekindergarten and kindergarten classes learned about the different parts of seeds, while first-graders were taught about the beneficial relationship between trees and many native bird species and fifth-graders learned about the dangers of erosion and how trees can help prevent it.

Before planting the tree, some of the first-graders, led by two of the school’s music teachers, sang a brief, cheerful song about the importance of having trees in the community.

“Plant a tree for your tomorrow, plant a tree to clean your air,” the students sang. “... Plant a tree today for all the world to share!”

Seiss and her teaching staff were joined by Frederick Mayor Michael O’Connor, Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak and the city’s arborist, Tom Rippeon, among other guests. Becky Wilson, a regional urban forestry coordinator for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, also took the podium to present the city with a Tree City USA award as well as a growth award, both from the National Arbor Day Foundation.

The Tree City USA program requires a city to not only have staff responsible for tree care, but also an urban forestry program supported by at least $2 per capita, among other standards. This year’s Tree City USA award marked the 39th consecutive year the city of Frederick received the recognition, Wilson said. The city was also the first in Maryland to win the award.

“It’s not easy to achieve those four standards especially over that 39-year period, that shows a level of commitment and caring not only for their current community but it shows some vision for the future of their community and the environment here,” Wilson said after the event. “The city of Frederick really has stellar staff with exceptional experience and education that really do a fantastic job.”

To drive that point home, Wilson pointed out that the growth award given to the city this year, which was in recognition of the city’s efforts going above and beyond the Tree City USA’s standards.

The city has celebrated Arbor Day the last few years by planting a white oak tree, the state’s official tree, Rippeon said at the ceremony, which culminated with O’Connor and Kuzemchak helping several students shovel the last bits of dirt and soil around the young tree.

“Ask the mayor to pick up that shovel and help you out,” Rippeon told one of the students with a playful grin as he dumped a wheelbarrow full of topsoil on the plot. “Tell him it’s OK to use his hands, too.”

Follow Jeremy Arias on Twitter: @Jarias_Prime.

Jeremy Arias is the Frederick city and government reporter for The Frederick News-Post.

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