Through funding from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR)  Urban and Community Forestry Grant, Pacific Education Institute (PEI) is engaging teachers and thereby students in a study of environmental justice and urban tree benefits. PEI provides professional learning opportunities for schools and districts statewide focused on outdoor-based STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education rooted in locally relevant environmental issues.

To date, PEI has conducted two professional learning sessions with Spokane Public School’s On Track Academy teachers to introduce the project’s starting hypothesis:  that schools with higher free and reduced lunch count correlate with reduced tree canopy. In the project’s next phase, teachers will engage their students in research and address social and environmental justice associated with access to and benefits from street trees in Spokane neighborhoods. Students will inventory the number of trees and percent tree canopy (cover formed by the leafy upper branches), then design planting solutions that would include engaging community groups. 

“The premise is that there is a potential for socioeconomic differences based on the tree canopy,” says PEI Eastern Washington FieldSTEM Coordinator Mike Nepean, “and there are benefits for a community in improving the tree canopy. The students will research air quality, sound quality and other factors that trees affect and share their findings with community groups.” Trees also impact temperature, as PEI Faculty Randy James points out. “If you go to areas that don’t have many trees, they are many degrees warmer in the summer,” he says. “Trees can make a difference, and it’s a social justice difference.” 

The City of Spokane Urban Forestry staff will work with PEI to provide expertise on the importance of trees, urban forestry as a career and resources. They will also provide planting expertise for 24 trees to be planted at strategic locations based on the recommendations of On Track Academy students.

More about PEI:

PEI delivers high-quality professional learning opportunities for educators in equitable, locally relevant, career connected, outdoor STEM education. They are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit working statewide to achieve systemic change by helping educators embed our FieldSTEM® model in their classrooms, schools and districts so their students develop into scientifically literate citizens who are equipped to make balanced decisions for sustainable communities.