Members of the public are invited to the opening ceremony of the Seth Boyden Children's Arboretum on Arbor Day, April 27, at 9 a.m. Visitors should gather outside at the rear of the building, 274 Boyden Avenue, Maplewood.

Seth Boyden Demonstration School has long been a hothouse for growing kids’ connection to nature with unique and sustainable green initiatives. There’s the locally famous “Strawberry Fields” garden (one of the largest school gardens in the state), a 16 year-in-the-making fully equipped Outdoor Learning Center, a New Jersey native plant habitat garden, and now a Children’s Arboretum with over 40 newly planted and marked trees - all completed with combined student and community participation.

The Seth Boyden Children’s Arboretum is the only arboretum in Essex County (possibly in all of New Jersey) on school grounds. Students and parents have added tree markers to mark each species, creating a “story trail” which enables children and adults to follow the markers around the extensive school grounds. Seth Boyden students and faculty will be able to explore and learn about the natural environment during school hours, including during recess and aftercare, while the wider South Orange-Maplewood community and beyond will be able to access the Arboretum during non-school hours. The aim of the Arboretum is to help turn the whole school property into an opportunity to encourage botany and dendrology and the chance to learn about trees native to New Jersey.

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The Children’s Arboretum expands upon the little known arboretum that was planted in the front of the school in the 1930s. In 1955, a pin oak was planted in front of the school auditorium to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. Known to the Seth Boyden community as the U.N. tree, this majestic oak is enhanced by a new marker explaining that oak trees grow in more places than any other tree species on the planet, making it the perfect choice to celebrate the ideals of the U.N.

The Arboretum cultivates Seth Boyden’s rich tradition of making full use of its outdoor environment (the largest in the district) for learning. Principal Damion Frye explains how nature integrates with the Seth Boyden philosophy of learning: “As a school philosophy, we expect the students, with guidance from teachers, to create their own understanding of every book, math problem, or science experiment. The same is true for the students’ experience in the Arboretum. There, they can explore the living world outside of the classroom and comprehend each new discovery through an individual and lasting lens.”

The Arboretum cross-pollinates with the other established and growing green initiatives at Seth Boyden. Strawberry Fields is currently undergoing renovation and expansion in conjunction with an Eagle Scout project. Students and parents collaborated to build a mosaic tile sundial a few months ago at the Outdoor Learning Center, which has also recently received a grant to install a permanent shade structure.  

Matthias Ebinger, chair of the Seth Boyden PTA Outdoor Learning Center Committee, explained, “The development of the project was a wonderful cooperation between the school’s PTA, the South Orange-Maplewood School District, and the two townships. There was an awesome energy among all participants, that saw the value in this idea and pulled together to make it possible.”

“It was truly through the efforts of the Seth Boyden parent community that we can open the Arboretum and provide a new pathway for access and equity to a meaningful Environmental Education,” said Frye.

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