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A living lesson

Students turn Arbor Day education into tribute to retiring teacher

Mary Ann Bonic knows a lot about trees.

When she was a child, she and her father studied trees. They got so good that they could recognize the type of tree just from its silhouette, without the leaves.

“I’m a tree lover,” Bonic said. “Some might say a tree hugger.”

Bonic, a second-grade teacher at Saratoga Elementary School, has been present each time Becky and Jamie Thomas from Spring Grove Nursery in Mazon have come to help second-grade classes here plant a tree.

But, since Bonic is retiring, this will be the last tree she plants with a second-grade class.

In response, the class gave her perhaps the best honor a group of 7- and 8-year-olds could give a tree lover. When they finished planting the baby oak, the class began calling it Mrs. Bonic’s Tree.

For the past 10 years, in honor of Arbor Day, the Thomases have been helping children plant trees at local schools to raise awareness of nature and encourage environmental stewardship.

“Trees are an incredible resource,” Becky Thomas says. “Kids are especially tuned into that.”

She and Jamie started the nursery in 1999.

They started teaching kids about trees when their daughter was in elementary school and they helped her class plant one.

Since then, they’ve expanded their efforts to share their love and knowledge of trees to kids at nine area schools.

“If we can share our experience with them in a positive way,” Becky said, “that will stick with them the rest of their lives.”

Before planting the new tree Wednesday morning, in advance of Arbor Day on Friday, Jamie and Becky gave the kids a quick refresher course on trees.

The kids, who already knew their stuff, were eager learners.

They learned the five important things trees do for the environment. They provide oxygen, habitat and shade (which helps save energy). Their roots absorb water -- like, for instance, the water from the torrential rains that flooded Morris last week.

And, not least of all, they’re pretty.

According to Bonic, working hands-on to plant a tree makes the lesson sink in.

“I think it makes the lessons real,” she said.

The tree they planted Wednesday was small and thin — a mere hint of the massive oak it will grow into.

“The tree is little, like you guys are right now, but it will grow every year,” Becky said. “I want you to think about all the good your tree will do for the environment during its lifetime.”

Today, she said, you guys are going to do something good for the environment.

“I hope you’ll continue to do more,” she said.

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