Students, parents and staff had often noticed a glaring void on McKinley Elementary School’s main yard, a large expanse of blacktop with little charm and even less shade.

They decided it was time to do something about it.

Partnering with an area nonprofit group, members of the campus community planted 15 trees last month during a daylong celebration of environmental awareness and sustainability.

And although the new trees will offer shade, improve air quality and reduce runoff water, organizers were even more enthusiastic about the impact they will have on students’ environmental education.

“These trees will provide so much to the students as a support and example of eco-friendly and sustainable lessons,” said Stephan Corbel, co-chair of the school‚Äôs sustainability and beautification committee. “A tree can do so much for the students and for the school community.”

As part of the program, each McKinley Elementary class has the opportunity to take care of a tree. Corbel said teachers have already teamed up on specific trees to make sure the watering, weeding and cleaning are completed on a regular basis in the coming months and years. The maintenance plan has been approved by the district, Corbel said.

TreePeople, a Beverly Hills-based environmental action organization, provided the trees, soil, mulch, staking systems and tools as well as technical assistance. It also paid for the asphalt cut, which was done before the event.

Drawing about 60 students and 70 parent volunteers, the Feb. 22 planting was just the latest sustainability initiative at the school located just north of Santa Monica Boulevard between 23rd Street and Chelsea Avenue.

Last year McKinley Elementary took the Trash Free Lunch Challenge with the help of Grades of Green, a nonprofit group that promotes environmental awareness. The school placed second out of 24 campuses in Southern California.

The recent planting project was the culmination of a three-year effort that started with discussions with Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District officials.

With the active support of McKinley principal Susan Yakich, Corbel reached out to TreePeople two years ago and participated in a workshop about planting trees in a school environment.

And after receiving a grant from TreePeople and negotiating with district administrators, school organizers were ready to get their hands dirty.

Assisted by TreePeople staffers, including sustainable schoolyards manager Michelle Bagnato, students and volunteers separated into groups, planted the trees and gave them names. They planted a variety of species, including Brisbane Box, Camphor, New Zealand Christmas, Australian Willow and coast live oak trees.

The trees were strategically placed to catch stormwater on a yard that features a natural slope. Surface runoff is a major source of pollution in Santa Monica, Corbel said.

“We are extremely thrilled about this school community event, as planting trees on the school campus has not occurred in the past 10 years,” he said. “It is so beneficial to the students, especially in the big yard, which had no tree.”

Until now.

Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, jeff@smdp.com or on Twitter.

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