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The historic beech tree that shades the front lawn of PS 94 in Little Neck is dying. The teachers, students and staff of the school want to save their beloved tree, but say their hands are tied.
They cannot touch the tree because it is on city Department of Education property, the same reason why the city Parks Department and city Department of Environmental Protection cannot help them. And the DOE does not have the resources to save the tree.
Meanwhile, the tree continues to die.
"The students love this tree," said Andrea Frankie, a science teacher at the school. "Is there anyone who can help?"
Bob Engler, the school's custodian, first noticed the tree ailing last fall. Leaves no longer grew on one of its branches. Soon, another arm was bare and the leaves were no longer the rich plum color they had been before. Fungi began to grow on the trunk.
Engler called a landscaper who said insects were infecting the tree. Little pinholes bored by flat-headed beetles riddle the tree's trunk. There is a poison to kill the insects, Engler said, but the school is afraid of using it near the children. The group researched other ways to save the tree, including some kind of tree cloning. They contacted city agencies and reached out to local politicians.
"This is something that we can't just let die without a fight," said JoAnn Barbeosch, the school's principal. "Let's at least try."
Besides, allowing the tree to die would send the wrong message to school students, Barbeosch said.
Frankie just finished teaching her class about global warming and the importance of trees. "They're passionate about it," she said.
The nearly 90-year-old tree was planted by the school's first graduating class. Carvings bearing the initials of students line the trunk. In the spring, groups of children gather under the tree to sketch, read poetry or learn about science. Frankie calls it "something from a movie."
Last week a group of 15 children came in on their day off — teachers were in conferences that day — to show their support for the tree. The students readily gave a list of reasons why the tree should be saved.
"Because it's been here for a lifetime," one student said.
"Nobody wants it to die," another added.
Reach reporter Katy Gagnon by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300 Ext 174.
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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