On Track Academy expands neighborhood tree canopy, earns Tree Campus honor

Posted by Communications staff on 4/20/2021

On Track Academy using a pickax to dig a hole for a new tree sapling The perfect time to plant a tree may have been 20 years ago, but students in northeast Spokane are doing the next best thing – leading an effort to plant dozens of trees in the neighborhood surrounding their school that will stand tall 20 years from now.

After researching the health of the urban tree canopy in northeast Spokane in relation to other areas of the city, On Track Academy (OTA) students learned that their neighborhood could use some new growth. They also learned that a healthier tree canopy not only provides environmental benefits like cleaner air and water quality, it can also increase property value, lower energy costs, and just generally make a neighborhood more livable.

“We’ve been looking at this for a few months now, at which places needed a few more trees,” said OTA junior Brendan Kesler. “We started out writing letters and going up to every single house in the area around the school to find places where a tree made sense.”

All this was done through a partnership with the Pacific Education Institute (PEI) in collaboration with the city of Spokane and a grant by the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

“We work with teachers to help them bring science out into the field,” said Mike Nepean, PEI’s Eastern Washington Field STEM coordinator. “In this particular case, the students are taking a solutions-based project approach to some research they’ve done. A big part for them was the social science piece. They learned that you can come up with a solution, but it’s not necessarily the solution that the community thinks they need or want at this time.”

By sharing what they’d learned about the value of trees, students were able to persuade 24 homeowners that planting saplings would benefit their homes and their neighborhood.

The project helped earn On Track Academy accreditation as a Tree Campus K-12 Founding Campus through the Arbor Day Foundation – making them one of just nine schools in the country with the distinction. The school created a “Tree Hero” committee of staff, students, and community members who will serve as ambassadors of the program. On Saturday, April 17, that committee worked with The Lands Council, Avista, and other sponsors to hand out free trees to all comers in an effort to further expand Spokane's urban tree canopy.

Two On Track Academy students planting a tree sapling in a neighborhood yard  On Track Academy students looking and touching tree sapling before planting it in a neighborhood yard

A couple days before that, OTA students and staff were busy digging holes in neighborhood yards to hold the new saplings. The planting was led by City of Spokane Urban Forestry professionals, including Katie Kosanke.

“I’m totally over-the-moon thrilled about all the hard work [the students] have done,” she said. “We’ve been wanting to do more projects here in northeast Spokane, where we know the canopy cover is deficient and the community doesn’t get those environmental, social, or economic benefits that the trees provide.”