COSTA MESA — Students from the Waldorf School of Orange County on Monday planted more than a dozen California sycamore trees in the Talbert Nature Preserve below Fairview Park.
It's all part of an environmental program to return native vegetation to the Santa Ana River Valley that was once home to Native Americans and Spanish settlers and, as late as the 1940s, cattle ranchers.
Orange County Parks special resource officer Sue Stoffel told the group of kindergartners to high school seniors that they'd be able to visit the preserve and see the dramatic change in the landscape as a result of their hard work.
"It's going to be fun when you come back in three years and see how much these trees have grown," Stoffel. told the students, who had gathered with buckets of water and shovels to plant the budding trees.
Waldorf School is a private school that was founded 22 years ago. It sits on Newport-Mesa Unified School District land on a hill overlooking the preserve. It's not uncommon for students to venture into the native grasslands and hold classes outdoors, especially when the subject is one of nature.
Four years ago, Waldorf decided to add a high school, and its first class is slated to graduate next spring.
The tree-planting was seen as a dedication to next year's class and all of the other senior classes that are sure to follow, said Denise Ogawa, the school's development director.
"Each class will be planting a tree of its own," said Ogawa. "Now, everybody will have a reason to come back here. They'll all have something to remember their class by. They'll all have a tree they can point to years from now as their very own."
A whole host of native vegetation will also join the sycamores, including coyote bush, coastal sage brush, purple sage, milkweed, buckwheat and lemonade berry.
The vegetation is considered important because it provides vital food sources and nesting sources for a host of insects, including every kid's favorite: the butterfly.
"These are the primary plants that the butterflies need to survive," said Stoffel.
Nearby, one young student, at that very moment, happened upon a caterpillar and started to play with it, putting it on her wrist as her friends, with a good deal of envy, gathered nearby to watch.
Asked whether they'd rather be in the classroom, the students, almost in unison, cried, "No."
"This is more fun," said Kaylie Flowers, a fourth-grader.
She and her friend, Sabrina Castro said ordinarily they would be learning how to knit in handwork class, but were happy to learn that they were going to get to go outside and plant some trees.
Stoffel said the area where the sycamores were planted is perfect because it's located right next to the picnic area and the bathrooms.
"Plus," she added, "they're native trees. They don't require much water."