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Fun way to put the forest into the classroom

Why are trees important?” asked little Johnny of his teacher one day. “Well, let’s see,” replied his teacher, “trees provide us with clean water, air, shade and things like pencils and paper.”

Little Johnny nodded his head, understanding the words, but yet, not quite understanding the concept.

If only his teacher had participated in a Project Learning Tree workshop, not only could she tell little Johnny the importance of trees, but she could also show little Johnny with fun, interactive, hands-on activities just how important trees are to all of us.

What if little Johnny’s teacher had helped him count all the forest products Johnny had used that day that came from trees? Imagine how big Johnny’s eyes would become as his teacher named everything he had used just that morning that incorporated a forest product: toilet paper, toothpaste, shampoo, comb, hairbrush, eyeglass frames, milk carton, maple syrup on his pancakes, tires on the vehicle, pencil, crayon, paper, newspaper, football helmet, and chewing gum. Little Johnny would have a greater appreciation of just how significant trees are in his life.

Project Learning Tree (PLT) uses trees and forests as windows on the world to increase students’ understanding of the environment and actions they can take to conserve it.

Since 1976, PLT has reached more than 138 million students and trained more than 765,000 educators to help students learn how to think, not what to think about complex environmental issues.

PLT helps develop students’ awareness, knowledge, and appreciation of the environment, builds their skills and ability to make informed decisions and encourages them to take personal responsibility for sustaining the environment and our quality of life that depends on it.

How does PLT accomplish this daunting task of teaching about the environment?

Using hands-on, interactive activities, PLT guides students through a problem employing science, technology, engineering, math, arts, and language. And these activities are fun! Imagine teaching students about camouflage and mimicry — what better way than to be a bird and forage for hidden bugs in the schoolyard! Add a relay race to the search and you’ve added physical education to the learning experience. Oftentimes, the “birds” do not find all of the “bugs!”

In 2017, Project Learning Tree was transferred from the American Forest Foundation to the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). SFI is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to the future of our forests and promoting sustainable forest management. It has chosen PLT as part of its education initiative, supporting the program and helping it grow across the United States and in other countries.

In Louisiana on July 28, 2017, a Memorandum of Understanding between the Sustainable Forestry Initiative for the PLT Program and the Louisiana Project Learning Tree (sponsored by the Louisiana Office of Forestry [branch of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry], the Louisiana Forestry Association and the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center) was signed.

This memorandum set forth objectives and provisions for the Louisiana PLT program to help provide services and education to the people of Louisiana for the protection, utilization and enhancement of the state’s trees, forests and other natural resources.

But let’s back up a few years before PLT was transferred to SFI. Louisiana Project Learning Tree was implemented in 1986, with Jimmy Culpepper as the lead PLT coordinator for the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF); followed by Wade Dubea and succeeded by Waylon Bennett, until LDAF dissolved the coordinator position around 2004. The Louisiana State University Agricultural Center selected Dr. Alden Main as a PLT co-coordinator and was followed by Ricky Kilpatrick in 1989, who served as co-coordinator with LDAF until 2004, becoming the solo state coordinator in 2005. Kilpatrick would continue to serve the next 14 years at this post until his retirement in December 2019.

Since 2005 under Kilpatrick’s long-term stint as Louisiana PLT coordinator, 510 workshops were held with more than 2,250 participants attending those workshops. As state coordinator, Kilpatrick trained facilitators, people interested in teaching PLT to others, all around Louisiana.

As requests poured in from around the state for PLT workshops for teachers, university students or interested people just wanting another tool in their toolbox to teach environmental education to students, Kilpatrick coordinated facilitators to lead these instructional events. Many times, Kilpatrick’s wife, Cindy Kilpatrick, a schoolteacher and certified PLT facilitator, assisted him in leading the workshops. There is no better dynamic duo than a forester and a teacher to facilitate a PLT workshop.

Currently, the number of facilitators has decreased in Louisiana as people move away or retire, but the need is as great as ever to get PLT into classrooms.

What are the qualifications needed to be a facilitator?

You must have a passion for sharing information about our natural world with young people — that’s all. A facilitator’s mileage and hotel expenses, if incurred, may be covered by a stipend from LA PLT.

In addition to a need for facilitators, the Louisiana PLT Steering Committee also needs to be resurrected. Steering Committee meetings will be held twice a year, or as needed. If you or someone you know would like to become a facilitator for the Louisiana Project Learning Tree or serve on the Steering Committee, please email Stacy Blomquist at

Louisiana Project Learning Tree also assists annually with the Louisiana Forestry Association’s Teacher’s Tour. Teachers and educators across the state are treated to a few days of field trips to learn about Louisiana’s forest industry. Observing a logging operation, touring various kinds of wood mills, experiencing scenic views on the Kisatchie National Forest and, of course, participating in Project Learning Tree activities are all part of this special event which is offered to teachers for free. For more information on the Teacher’s Tour and how to sponsor a teacher, please contact Gracee Texada at

The success of PLT in Louisiana would not be possible without generous donations from the various forest industries in the state and the tremendous support from the LDAF and LFA. The new “Explore Your Environment” activity guide for kindergarten through eighth grade is valued at $35 and we are thankful to be able to offer these guidebooks to PLT participants at no cost.

Project Learning Tree is a remarkable environmental program for students from pre-K through high school. More than 60 percent of participants at a PLT workshop attend because someone shared with them the amazing resources PLT provides. Help us share this good news around the state. For more information on scheduling a PLT workshop or a professional development workshop for school educators, please contact Stacy Blomquist. Working together, we can help little Johnny’s teacher explain exactly how important trees are to all of us.

(Stacy Blomquist with the USDA Forest Service is the current Louisiana PLT Coordinator. She can be contacted at; Kisatchie National Forest, 2500 Shreveport Hwy, Pineville, LA 71360, office (318)473-7242.)

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