Students at Hillcrest School in Kenosha are using a local grant to fund a tree research farm, hoping to grow maple trees for Kenosha Unified schools.
Hillcrest teacher William “Jay” Robinson received a grant from the Education Foundation of Kenosha to create a tree research sugar maple farm at the school.
Robinson’s plan is to purchase seedling trees that will be planted and tended by students. His hope is to raise the trees until they are 2 inches in diameter, then to transplant those larger, nursery-quality sugar maples at elementary and middle schools in the district.
Meanwhile, he said, students at Hillcrest are planting larger trees donated by local nurseries. They also plan to tap two mature sugar maple trees at the school in the spring, hoping to learn about the process of turning sap into maple syrup.
He is estimating that about 200 Hillcrest students will work on the program over the next seven years.
Robinson and several students were working to plant a donated tree Monday. They hope to begin planting seedlings for their tree farm in the spring.
“This is good work,” said Derek Cullen, an 18-year-old senior.
“We’re going to experiment with different kinds of containers” to see which method of growing and transplanting the maples works best, Robinson said.
Hillcrest School, 4616 24th Ave., has programs for students in middle school through high school. The school has one program devoted to students who have behavior-related special education needs. A second program, called Bridges, provides an alternative for students who have been expelled.
Robinson specializes in teaching science for special education students.
“When I started here six years ago, this was just a green field,” he said of the park-like space east of the school.
Since then, the school has worked to plant donated trees and installed a disc golf course for students and the community.
The school works with a local non-profit called Community Impact Programs, which provides counselors during the school day, after school and in the summer. It also uses service projects like the tree farm to help students learn about community service.
Principal Eitan Benzaquen said 78 students attend the school but the number ranges from 70 to 120 during the school year.
Along with the grant, Robinson secured donations of trees, topsoil and mulch from Breezy Hill Nursery, John W. Cable and Son and Asplundh, along with another nursery that wanted to remain anonymous.
The school is continuing to seek community donations of fencing, tools, compost and maple tree tapping kits.