Shacklette Elementary School, Louisville

Shacklette Elementary School, Louisville  Photo by Michael Hayman

The landscape around several Jefferson County inner-city public schools is looking a whole lot better than it used too. That's thanks in part to students in a Landscape Architecture class in the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. Chris Sass, assistant professor in the department, teaches Design with Plants, a 300-level course. He was approached by Louisville media personality and garden expert, Cindi Sullivan, about developing planting plans for school campuses in Jefferson County urban neighborhoods. Sullivan, a graduate of UK's College of Agriculture, Food and Environment's horticulture program, told Sass there was no tree canopy, students had no contact with nature and the overall environmental quality was low around the schools.

“Some of the schools lacked even basic playground equipment,” said Sass. “It was sad to see, they didn't have much at all.”

Board member Henry Heuser studies a design presented by Landscape Architecture students Erin Lockwood and Brittany Wetherill to the TreesLouisville board.

Board member Henry Heuser studies a design presented by Landscape Architecture students Erin Lockwood and Brittany Wetherill to the TreesLouisville board.  Photo by Michael Hayman

That was in 2015, and since then more than 100 trees have been planted. Landscape architecture students have done designs for roughly 15 schools. The nonprofit, Trees Louisville is involved, and area nurseries have donated trees. Local developers have also contributed through sponsorships.

“We did a couple of designs like a botanical garden at Shacklette Elementary,” Sass said. “We used all kinds of native trees like oaks and maples. It actually made sense to the students that we could use trees to create space.”

The UK students undertook the first plantings in Dec. 2015, and they have continued as money and donations have become available. When choosing the trees for their designs, they keep the type of soil in mind as well as how those trees can shape the space as they grow. So far, they have planted trees at about half of the schools. The class of about 12 to 15 students have to participate in the design, planting, and presentation for their grade.

“The students all enjoy the project, knowing it makes a difference,” Sass said. “That satisfaction is what they enjoy the most.

-- Jeff Franklin