Students’ service learning beautifies Atlanta

Holy Innocents' students Jackson James (left) and Jackson Phoenix are part of the school's new HI Trees group.

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Holy Innocents' students Jackson James (left) and Jackson Phoenix are part of the school's new HI Trees group.

For students in a newly formed organization at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School, learning doesn’t end with the last bell on Friday afternoon. At least once a month, they take lessons in community improvement, service and a bit of horticulture.

Through the HI Trees group at the Sandy Springs school, about 40 students from across the upper grades have formalized a project that began more than three years ago.

“Students have to earn 15 service hours each year, and Trees Atlanta was a group we partnered with in 2018,” said Upper School teacher George Bevington. “Since then, we’ve gone almost every month.”

Organizing that work under a club umbrella provided better ways to keep students informed of upcoming events and to encourage involvement, said Bevington. “It’s a way to give them an incentive to go beyond their 15 hours.”

But the club serves other key purposes as well.

“Our AP environmental science teacher has a curriculum that covers streams and the impact of urbanization on plants and species,” said Bevington. “Students talk in class about the sites they’ve visited, how they’ve moved invasive plants, built pathways and cleaned up debris. Those stories tie back into the lessons.”

Another objective is to provide students with a window on parts of the metro area they may not be familiar with, from Stone Mountain to the airport.

“I liaise with Trees Atlanta, and they put us where planting is needed most, often in some of the older, underserved, most blighted neighborhoods,” said Bevington. “Many of these students are visiting areas they’ve never seen before. But now they’re playing an active role in revitalizing neighborhoods. When we’re done a project, there may be 50 new trees planted that help bring those neighborhoods back to life.”

The school provides transportation to the planting sites, and after the work is completed, the crew usually has lunch together. As an added bonus, students are recognized as being the most valuable volunteer, the top crew leader and the one with the most spirit. The physical activity brings personal benefits as well.

“There are psychic rewards such as learning about personal responsibility and independence,” said Bevington. “It’s time and effort, not just donating money.”

Before joining the effort, sophomore Jackson Phoenix said the most gardening he’d ever done was a bit of lawn mowing. Spending hours planting trees on a Saturday morning is a challenge.

“It’s definitely not easy work,” he said. “We’re out there rain, sunshine or cold. But if you go out with a group of friends, it can be a lot of fun. It’s really making a difference to people in the city. And I can definitely plant a tree now.”

Information about Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School is online at

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