The best friend on Earth of man is the tree. When we use the tree respectfully and economically, we have one of the greatest resources of the Earth."
--Frank Lloyd Wright
Last year, Whitby’s Grade 8 students stepped up when the trees came down. A necessary removal of several dozen trees to construct our new gym prompted the question, “What will happen to the wood?” Upper School Science teacher, Chris Ostrowski saw it as an opportunity to gather teachable moments. “We will build with Whitby Wood.” It was not difficult to find support from the administration for such a project.
“The beauty of this project is in how well it represents Whitby,” says Ostrowski. “Different people working together to better our community. The class of 2013 donated the funds to mill the wood and then came back to campus, after they graduated, to build the first table. Jonathan Chein, Tom Coleman, Jose and Guillermo Gonzalez, Chris Ciuca, and I worked side-by-side with the alumni students. at the end of the day, we sat down together at a table we had built.”
Inspired by this collaboration, Ostrowski created an elective called “The Space Around Us.”
“One of our greatest strengths at Whitby” says Ostrowski, “is that we take the time to talk to one another...so this elective was a chance to create some special places to talk. It was also a chance for current Whitby students to build something to last, collaborating with teachers, staff, the grounds and maintenance department and with each other.”
The trees that were taken down are Whitby Wood. This Whitby Wood holds the stories gathered over the years, conversations and lunches at the base of the trees, respite from the heat in their shade, children collecting acorns while watching and listening to the birds and the squirrels overhead. Now this Whitby Wood has been repurposed into picnic tables, some that are in the same places as the trees that gave us the wood.
The students had the chance to work with drills, hemp oil sealant, bolts, handsaws, clamps, chisels, hammers, pliers, and palm sanders. “Something very important to me is that the students learned safety with the equipment and the materials.” recounts Ostrowski. “They got in the habit of using masks and goggles and gloves.”
The students also needed to consult and draft building plans. Ostrowski and the students consulted with Blake Glazier and Tom Coleman for this step. Calipers were used to exact measurements, and for some, using “fractions” for a real-life application was especially eye opening. The class learned “life skills,” an appreciation of labor, and the joy of building something together.
One of the more notable trees that needed to be taken down was a true Whitby landmark—“The Whitby Tree.” –This massive red maple tree was taken down for reasons of safety (see the “Summer Updates” letter from Head of School, Bryan Nixon)
Whitby School has been on this campus since 1960—offering silent residences to many trees that have offered shade, shelter and a comfortable spot to open up discussions.
Generations of students may not recognize where a former tree stood as our campus stretches and flexes, but planting seeds of pride by using the treasures of the past, will maintain a legacy of a school that knows, values and honors its roots.