Program Focuses on Science and Earth Education for Youth
In the outdoor classrooms of Teaching Responsible Earth Education, students respond much like the organization’s T.R.E.E. acronym: growing, blossoming, branching out.
Entergy’s support, consistent since 2007, powers life through such community programs. Since 1995, T.R.E.E. has provided comprehensive curriculum-based life science and Earth education programs to thousands of children, parents and teachers in the New Orleans area.
The organization’s roots reach back a decade earlier, T.R.E.E. executive director Heather Szapary explained, to a fifth-grade New Orleans public school teacher who wanted to nudge students’ interest in science and provide the opportunity to spend time in safe, natural spaces.
“She’d grown up with that and thought it was important for her students to experience that,” she said.
At a former camp along the Little Tchefuncte River in Covington, her fifth-grade students spent five days and four nights, studying the Earth’s operating principles. They returned with boosted interest in science and the outdoors, and with tighter bonds. They saw each other and the science in a different light. Students who’d struggled in the regular classroom bloomed outdoors.
That remains the model for T.R.E.E., with additional programs for fourth-graders and seventh-graders. Geared toward children and focused on science and the environment, T.R.E.E. reaches about 1,000 students yearly. Entergy is their largest corporate donor, with support that ensures low-income students can participate, and encourages other companies and family foundations to contribute, too. With Entergy’s gift, T.R.E.E. can reach not only low-income students, but also high-poverty schools.
Dillon Allen of Jackson, Mississippi, Entergy senior manager of project management and a T.R.E.E. board director, was drawn to its mission.
“I have a pretty strong passion for the environment and for increasing access for kids to education that they wouldn’t otherwise have,” he said.
Entergy employee resource groups step up, too, fueling Heart and Health grants through events such as the Power Mile Race to support T.R.E.E., with Entergy matching $1,000 for every 10 employees participating. More than 30 join the run, noted Allen, ringleader for the crew.
“T.R.E.E. brings a hands-on linkage between science and nature and the environment to kids from downtown New Orleans who rarely get to experience that firsthand,” Allen said. “It’s a very rich way to teach the fundamentals and really make it sink in more deeply.”
T.R.E.E. nurtures other lessons, too. Szapary recalled the fourth-graders invited to speak at a T.R.E.E. Talk for the community. Their teacher asked them to share their favorite part.
“One of them said, ‘… being able to share what we learned with the kindergarteners.’ … The teacher said, ‘Well, how did that make you feel?’ The student said, ‘I felt just like you.’”
Tears welled up, Szapary said. “You can’t put empowerment into words very well…but that was it.”