Greening Asphalt-Covered Schools: It Never Gets Old

When I walked into the school office, armed with my spray paint and tape measure, I was greeted by Jorge Alvarez, one of the Victoria Avenue Elementary School Green Team members. “Are we marking the asphalt today?” You would’ve thought it was Christmas, the way his face lit up when I said yes. “Let me come with you,” he volunteered.

We walked together, marking the corners of the tree wells, measuring, and all the while starting to “see” the trees. “Won’t it be great when the kids come out that door and a tree will be the first thing they see ahead of them on the playground?” asked Jorge. “Won’t it be great when they have these flowering trees blocking the view of the street? I can’t wait to see them playing in the shade; these trees on the south side of the grass are going to make a huge difference… This is changing how our playground looks and feels completely.”

There is something about marking the asphalt, delineating where we will be cracking open the ground to make way for a living thing, that starts to make a project seem real. After months of planning, that marking on the ground makes a team realize, this is actually going to happen.

The school Green Team at Victoria Avenue Elementary in South Gate has been working on the details of their project for months. They have been attending TreePeople’s Citizen Forestry classes and our Community Tree Care Team training, recruiting members of the school community to join their Green Team, choosing the right trees for the blacktop playground, working with district administration to get approval, creating their tree care plan—the list goes on and on. Their school is in one of TreePeople’s regional areas of focus (parts of our region that have a low tree canopy coverage) so, as Regional Manager, I have watched them go through the process.

At the beginning of 2013, Victoria Avenue Elementary had a purely asphalt playground — a harsh environment, especially on hot days. The school has fought to get a grass area installed for students to run and play on, and their Green Team has worked to bring additional beauty and nature to their playground. As they do so, they have drawn in a crowd of supporters, some of whom I’ve met, some whom I’ll meet when we plant again.

At TreePeople, we have workshops in which people learn everything they need to be successful on their project, and I am finding myself teaching these workshops more than I am out in the field participating in projects. But every once in a while I get to be part of seeing a team’s vision become a reality, and, let me tell you—the excitement is contagious and it never gets old.

Above: Kids and parents alike get their hands dirty helping to transform schools. Victoria Avenue School Green Team member Jorge Alvarez and Principal Maria Tovares documented the most recent planting day. Take a look at their inspiring album!


By Rachel Malarich

Originally from the Bay Area, Rachel Malarich grew up planting and caring for trees in her parents’ backyard. As one of TreePeople’s Regional Managers, Rachel helps coordinate our work in Compton and the surrounding areas, doing outreach, educating community members, and helping Green Teams plan their school and community greening projects. Rachel enjoys good food, music, and time with her family.