• The Wawona Middle School Planting Project calls for 24 Quercus lobata, commonly called valley oak.
A project is underway to beautify Wawona Middle School in central Fresno with a row of trees.
Not just any tree, though. The Wawona Middle School Planting Project calls for 24 Quercus lobata, commonly called valley oak, next to the school’s large sports fields on the south side of the campus, which is off Palm Avenue just south of Fig Garden Village.
The project, launched this week, is in the fundraising stage. The goal is $2,400 to plant 24 valley oaks — $100 per tree. Officials already have scheduled the planting at 11 a.m. April 22, which is Earth Day.
The project has the support of Fresno Unified School District, Tree Fresno and Wawona Middle School.
Wawona is in transition as it becomes a “walking” school. Previously, nine buses brought students to Wawona when it served as a feeder for Fresno and Bullard high schools. Enrollment was 600. Boundaries changed, and now Wawona is a feeder only to Bullard. Only two buses bring students to campus. Enrollment now is 400.
Wawona Principal Carlos Castillo says the planting project fulfills the school goal to connect with the community. A school without fences, Wawona’s sports fields also are used by community soccer leagues and other sports on weekends.
“I’m big on using green space at a facility,” Castillo says. “It means a great deal to us. We are trying to connect our community to our school. Look how picturesque it is here. We ask the community for support, but we also want to step up.
“We want people to say, ‘We want to use Wawona,’ and the reason is, ‘It’s nice there.’ ... If you have people out here, you won’t have them tagging.”
The project is the idea of David Roberts, a general contractor in Fresno and a former science teacher at schools in Reno, Oakland and San Leandro. He lives in the Wawona neighborhood.
“I find Fresno doesn’t have many park-like settings,” he says. “I want to make Fresno a prettier place.
“You go to soccer games, and there’s no place to sit in the shade. These trees will bring an estate-like feel to Fresno, emblematic of the area. Parents are sweating at games, with no place to be protected. This is a natural solution that honors history.”
Roberts selected valley oaks because of their rich history in the central San Joaquin Valley.
“They represent us,” he says. “They are massive trees. They give tons of shade. They are embedded in Fresno history.
“For Native Americans, it was staple to their diet. Farmers also would seek out the trees because they were an indication of good soil.”
Roberts says valley oaks also attract wildlife, making their presence on campus useful for science curriculum.
Castillo says the project will unite teachers and students. Teachers will be trained how to plant valley oaks. Then, teachers will work with four students each to plant the trees.
“It’s going to be a better environment for our kids and our community,” he says. “You can build what you want in six months. But you can’t grow trees in that time. Once they’re there, they’re priceless.”