In an effort to increase canopies and address canopy iniquities, WHC co-founded and manages CommuniTree, an urban and community forestry collective comprised of businesses, municipalities and forestry-oriented NGOs, that has planted over 12,000 trees within community spaces and industrial properties in northwestern Indiana and northeastern Illinois. Building on the longstanding success of these plantings, WHC and CommuniTree engaged students at George Washington High School on Chicago’s southeast side in a collaboratively organized tree planting on school grounds. Students, teachers and local youth organizers planted 45 native trees and shrubs alongside WHC staff and volunteers from local corporations.
The school is located next to an impactful industrial corridor with poor air quality and the associated health impacts on the adjacent community. As such, in addition to broadly applicable lessons about stormwater management and habitat value, students were taught to observe and measure the impact of new tree canopies through the lens of air pollution.
Following the planting event, students, in partnership with Davey Tree Institute, used i-Tree software to track and model projected atmospheric impacts of the planting. Quantifying the carbon sequestration, particulate matter capture and fugitive dust capture of this small-scale planting engages students in real-world problem solving while developing their contextual and scientific understanding of the environmental justice (EJ) conflict playing out in their community.
WHC has also partnered with the Calver Military Academy, a Chicago public school in the Altgeld Gardens and Murray Homes neighborhood. The area is notable as the home of the late Hazel Johnson, an Altgeld Murray resident dubbed “the mother of environmental justice.” Johnson forced factories to improve their anti-pollution practices and also shut down incinerators and landfills.