Maryland High School Students Aim to Make a Change for the American Chestnut Tree
The Elgin Park Chestnut Demonstration Orchard in Poolesville, Maryland began as a collaboration between Alex Pike, a senior in the Global Ecology Science Program at Poolesville High School; Alex‘s project sponsor, Tom Kettle; The Maryland Chapter of TACF; and the Town of Poolesville. After Alex graduated, Kirby Carmack and Nicole Rodriguez, both students of Poolesville High School Class of 2013, took on the maintenance of the orchard for their senior project.
Inspired by their work in the orchard, Kirby and Nicole wrote a children’s book titled “The Legend of the American Chestnut Tree,” accompanied with illustrations by their classmate Michael Torres. They donated a hard copy of the book to Poolesville Elementary School where it will be introduced into the third grade curriculum as a part of their unit on "making a change." Kirby and Nicole hope that the book will inform young readers on the importance of the environment, specifically the restoration of the American chestnut.
Amazed at their work, we wondered, what would inspire high school students to publish a story about a tree that they’ve only experienced in local orchards and in history books? As you will see in this interview and by reading the book, they were inspired by the hope that was instilled in them from many of TACF’s hardworking volunteers. We are grateful to Nicole and Kirby for taking time to answer our questions in the midst of graduating and wrapping up their high school careers. We know you’ll enjoy their story!
The Legend of the American Chestnut Tree
TACF: How did you become interested in focusing your project on American chestnut restoration?
Kirby: The Global Ecology Science Program, beginning freshmen year, teaches about the dangers and impacts of non-native species on an environment. Part of this subject includes the American chestnut and the chestnut blight. Junior year we went on a field trip to a farm where we planted 90 or so American chestnut trees so that future students can research the trees and learn more about the blight. It was that field trip that got me thinking about doing my senior project on American chestnut restoration.
Nicole: In March of 2012 Kirby was scheduled to meet with the project sponsors and the senior who planned the orchard for the chestnut planting. He was unable to attend and I went in his place to speak with the people involved. During that trip I learned a lot about the American chestnut trees and their history and so I asked Kirby if I could join him in the project.
TACF: Is this the first book you’ve ever written? Would you be interesting in writing more books?
Kirby: Yes, this is the first book I have written and I would not mind writing another one day, I just have no idea what it would be about.
Nicole: This is the first book I have written and perhaps I might focus on article writing rather than books.
TACF: What are your favorite pages of the book?
Kirby: My favorite two pages of the entire book are pages 6 and 7 where we discuss the importance of the American chestnut tree to its environment and to humans.
Nicole: I would have to say my favorite page would be page 8 and the illustration that goes along with it! It gets to the point and emphasizes the major loss in the species.
TACF: How do you think this book will inspire 3rd graders at Poolesville Elementary, and around the country to “make changes”?
Kirby: I believe that our book displays how simple making a change can be. One of the biggest problems elementary students have is that they believe that to make a change it has to be something huge, nationwide that has an impact on thousands of people. This book shows that a small project that impacts a small community is just as powerful and that is the message we are trying to pass on to younger kids.
Nicole: I think this book will inspire students to make a change in their community because it shows them that it is possible. In our book we include pictures from our own orchard project for the American chestnut tree, thus the students learn about the species and see that we did to make a change. We are spreading awareness and being active which I think is really important to truly inspire others. Specifically for the Poolesville students, the orchard is extremely close to the school so they can really immerse themselves in the project.
Pictured left and center are authors Kirby Carmack and Nicole Rodrigues. On the right is the book's illustrator Michael Torres. Thanks to Kirby, Nicole, and Michael for your great contribution to restoring the American chestnut to our eastern forests!