Tucson Electric Power helped a Flowing Wells preschool take the first step in creating a natural classroom by donating and planting trees that will eventually provide shade for outdoor learning.

In late September, TEP employees joined preschoolers and teachers in digging and placing trees in an undeveloped area at Emily Meschter Early Learning Center. With assistance from Civano Growers, TEP donated two desert willows and three oak trees.

“We’re excited for the chance to have an outdoor education and discovery area. These trees will grow into mature shade trees so our students can learn in nature,” said Sue Shinn, Director of Early Learning for Flowing Wells Unified School District. “We’re grateful to TEP for the partnership.”

Educators imagine the area will become a natural classroom with shade patios, a mural, a climbing wall, and play structures made from recycled tires, pallets and other items. They anticipate that children will learn outside one day each week in the area when it’s complete.

Jessica Jankowski-Gallo, Early Learning General Education Teacher, knows how important it is to build connections between the community and educators. With TEP leading the way in community building, she reached out to see if she could get support with the trees.

During the planting morning, about 10 children, ages 3-5, crouched in a group and used small shovels and buckets to dig holes for the new trees. One girl said she felt like an explorer from “Jurassic World.”

Having children help with the planting gave TEP employees the chance to teach them about the importance of planting shade trees and energy efficiency.

“Who wants to be a special volunteer to fill the dirt over here?” said Alyssa Moore, Program Coordinator in TEP Residential Energy Efficiency Programs and Services. “We’re going to build a wall, like a castle,” she said, showing them how to create a berm.

About 150 children attend the learning center, including a number of special needs students. Early education teachers are looking forward to making use of the space to complement their curriculum, which promotes early literacy and awareness of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) concepts. “The trees are going to make great talking points for sustainability and how to care for our environment around us, too,” Jankowski-Gallo said.

Jankowski-Gallo also teaches the children about the solar panels behind the school that provide power for classrooms at the center and nearby schools.

“A high-quality environment makes a big difference. We are going to be able to make connections to how we physically move, how our brains make connections, how to socialize, deal with our feelings, and use new vocabulary,” Jankowski-Gallo said. “This is all going to all be done comfortably in our own environment, thanks to the shade.”

The donation is part of TEP’s Trees for You program, which allows TEP customers to buy $5 trees to shade their homes and support energy efficiency.

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