Last week, we attended a pop-up forestry conference at the University of Toronto to participate in some knowledge sharing. One study just published is particularly relevant to Trees Please in Hamilton, where we have been working in collaboration with schools to plant more trees in school yards. We know that the busy drop-off and pick-up creates a lot of air pollution so close to the school – usually right where the kindergartners play! But a new study from the University of Toronto now shows a positive relationship between tree cover in school yards and academic performance.
This research looked at 387 schools in the Toronto District School Board, inquiring whether tree cover and species diversity has an effect on Grades 3 and 6 EQAO test scores. By controlling for socioeconomic factors, which have the greatest effect on academic performance, the researchers discovered that tree cover has a significant impact. In fact, this effect was the strongest in schools with the highest external challenges, and the biggest effect was seen in Grade 6 math scores.
As many other studies have shown, green space has important impacts on increasing physical and mental well-being. A related study found a link between the amount of green space that students can see through school windows and an increase in test scores. Attention Restoration Theory suggests that “contact with nature restores and redirects one’s attention to the current task at hand”. Green space can positively impact overall well-being by decreasing neurophysiological stress.
The researchers used NeighbourWoods data for schoolyard trees – the same protocol upon which Trees Please was based. Like Trees Please, they looked at species, diameter, height, and overall condition in over 20,000 trees at schools across Toronto. They found that the most effectual tree species were simply the most common, leading them to believe it doesn’t matter what species are planted, just that there are many. Even conifers, with their year-round green, did not have an additional impact, however, tree cover had a higher impact than other types of vegetation.
This research is extremely valuable to convince school boards to invest in trees for academic performance, in addition to the numerous health benefits. With the more pronounced effect in the schools with the highest external challenges, a small depaving project in the urban core could go a long way. While current tree budget is very low for many school boards (this paper quotes 0.1%!), this research provides a good incentive to help rationalize investing in trees for school yards.
Last November, we planted seven native trees at Sts. Peter and Paul School, which we hope will grow to help with both air quality and test scores! We are currently working with other schools for more plantings in 2018. Let your schools know all the wonderful benefits of trees, and let’s green playgrounds across Hamilton!
Remember to register for our Restoring Resilient Green Spaces series, beginning next Tuesday, March 27! We look forward to hearing from local experts about what we can all do locally to manage storm water, plant native species, and identify invasives. Contact Carolyn or Juby at firstname.lastname@example.org to register today!