OPUSD plants roots for remembrance

Students engage in the planting of sycamore trees

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“Tree of Thanksgiving 

Planted on the One Year Anniversary 

of the Woolsey Fire in Oak Park 

November 2019”

That is what the band around six sycamore trees freshly planted on each school campus within the Oak Park Unified School District says.

Superintendent Dr. Tony Knight visited the schools within OPUSD and planted a tree on each campus on Thursday and Friday, Nov. 21 and 22 with the students on the various campuses. The attendees discussed “the importance of planting trees and giving life as an act of gratitude and remembrance,” Knight wrote in a post on ParentSquare.

Director of Bond Programs, Sustainability, Maintenance and Operations Brendan Callahan attended many of these tree plantings with Knight.

“I had an opportunity to attend several of the ceremonies, and it was inspiring to see the students come together to listen to Dr. Knight speak about the benefits the tree would bring and how they symbolize our gratitude one year after the Woolsey Fire,” Callahan said.

Medea Creek Middle School Principal Brad Benioff saw this as an opportunity for healing.

“Knowing the anniversary of the fires and shootings was approaching, we were all looking for appropriate ways to not just remember, but to learn, grow and move forward,” Benioff said. “Planting a tree at every school site was a great way to symbolize this.”

Benioff was present to hear students share their experiences with the Woolsey Fire.

“Many, many of our students still feel the impact of the fires. There are still feelings of fear and anxiety anytime there is smoke in the air as they remember being evacuated or that they lost their homes,” Benioff said. “I was struck with how many students shared when we were discussing their experiences as the tree was being planted.”

According to Oak Hills Elementary School Principal Erik Warren, the permanence of this action struck students.

“I think what resonated with the students was that this young tree will be here long after they grow to adulthood. There is an understanding that the students and the tree are sort of growing up together,” Warren said.

The tree at Oak Park High School has been planted on the Great Lawn near two other sycamore trees.

“I think [the students were and are] very supportive of anything we do to memorialize events that have happened to our school and to find ways to honor those people who may have been impacted by them,” OPHS Principal Kevin Buchanan said.

Warren believes, much like the natural world around the Oak Park community, it’s time for recovery and regrowth.

“Whenever destructive events take place in any community, we need to turn our attention to recovery. The natural world around us has shown its incredible capacity to recover,” Warren said. “A year later we have seen the blackened moonscape return to green landscape after the winter rains. In much the same way, the community has also shown a great capacity to recover. As green leaves sprout from charred stumps and houses are being rebuilt, evidence of the destructive fire is becoming harder to find.”