Amidst setbacks induced by the harsh drought, animal trespass and water shortage, the Forestry Department and sponsors witnessed gratitude and respect for trees among the top schools. They invested time and care and applied commendable strategies that can inspire youth and communities across Jamaica to plant trees sustainably and with little resources.
Although they got off to a late start, Prospect Primary was not a late bloomer. They placed first in the primary level of the competition, having planted over one hundred trees. Still, the number of trees planted was not the only impressive feat of the school. They developed an exemplary agroforestry plot of various fruit species including soursop, cherry, coffee, and coconut, which set a high standard for sustainable tree planting. Principal, Nesline V. Lawrence reported that the community was happy with the productive use of the former dumping ground.
After planting the seedlings, the small school in Danvers Pen, St. Thomas was faced with water woes threatening the plants' survival. Nevertheless, Mrs. Lawrence, who received the award for Most Outstanding Teacher, primary category said despite the challenges she was determined that her school would win. “We are in it and we are going to win it”, she revealed was her attitude during the competition. The school reused plastic bottles for drip irrigation to alleviate the drought. Funds were low, but Ms. Lawrence purchased water from Serge Island Dairies, which later donated the resource to maintain the plants. Ms. Lawrence rallied her students, including Most Outstanding Student, Nakeel Phipps, parents and farmers who planted and maintained the seedlings, even on weekends. Together, the school and the community converted an overgrown plot of land into a promising orchard from which the school and community will benefit.
Tree planting is not new to York Castle High school. Principal, Raymond Treasure, proudly shared that the partnership with the Forestry Department was longstanding, confirmed by several mature willow and jacaranda trees growing across the school compound. The school was led to victory by the Agriculture Science Department steered by Most Outstanding Teacher, Shennel Haye-Stephens who incorporated the planting and maintenance of the trees in her lessons. The drought was no match for the highly motivated team who sought to win the cash prize to fund the purchase of new equipment for the Department. In addition, Mrs. Haye-Stephens replaced seedlings destroyed by the drought through propagation. “When we planted and they started dying we had to find other ways to maintain so we did some propagation…we got some additional trees from the Poui tree via circumposing” she said.
Empowered by skill, determination and vast real estate, the team propagated and planted two hundred and seventy-five trees including ackee, otaheite apple, ackee, breadfruit, cedar and Christmas palm among others.
“I would call [the competition] groundbreaking”, said Mrs. Haye-Stephens. “The trees are going to add not only to the aesthetics of the environment but also help with reducing our carbon footprint, [and] teaching students, actually, how to take care of their own space.”
The teachers and students from both schools have committed to maintain the trees and expand their tree planting efforts. Ainsley A. Henry, CEO & Conservator of Forests expressed that the competition was one of the programmes that would “help to make [the National Tree Planting Initiative] more personal to Jamaicans and would help [the Forestry Department] to achieve [its] target of three million trees.