POINCIANA – It started with a vacation that Millie Campbell decided to take – and the trees that she discovered all around her.
“My husband and I went to Key West one time, and there were beautiful trees,” Campbell said. That’s when she learned that one of them was the Royal Poinciana, a tree that is a native of Madagascar, and has been consistently voted among the top 5 most beautiful flowering trees in the world.
It didn’t hurt that Campbell is a teacher at Palmetto Elementary School – which happens to be in Poinciana. She decided to get the seeds for her own Royal Poinciana.
“I wanted one for my house, for myself,” she said.
Then Campbell decided to go a step further, and plant the tree at her school. What she did was turn it into a lesson for her students – one involving not just an appreciation of the environment and how plants grow, but also a lesson in something else: civic pride.
For a community that’s struggled in the past four years to shake off the impact of the housing market collapse, Poinciana’s residents – and in particular its young people – could develop a much stronger sense of pride in their community if they know more about its history and its roots, she said. And understanding those roots can be accomplished by something as simple of the planting of a few seed, she said.
Standing in front of the Royal Poinciana tree that Campbell and her young students planted in front of the school, she said it was a great lesson for the students, and will continue to be as that tree grows larger and larger.
“A little itty bitty thing turned into a big thing,’ she said. “What lived will last now, and will not go away.”
Tony Claudio is the head of Palmetto Elementary’s School Advisory Council, and he was there last April when the students first planted those seeds as part of the Earth Day celebration.
They came to understand how important the environment is, Claudio said, and also came to understand how Poinciana got its name.
“That’s the pride we have here in Poinciana,” he said. “We want to create an environment where people can come here and see we take pride in taking care of our environment.”
Next year, Poinciana will celebrate 40 years as a community. Today, Poinciana has 10 villages that cut across parts of unincorporated land in Osceola and Polk counties. The community experienced a surging residential construction boom in the last decade, and the local population soared past 84,000.
Claudio is a member of the civic group Poinciana Residents for Smart Change, which is working to improve the fast-growing community and make it a better place. Part of their mission, he said, is to build pride in their community, which was hard hit by the collapse of the housing market in 2008.
Claudio said he wants Palmetto Elementary to keep planting more Royal Poinciana trees on the school grounds, making this a long term project for future generations of students to take part in.
“I got a hold of about 20 seeds for Poinciana trees, and I gave them to her,” Claudio said of Campbell and her students. “We’re going to have plenty of Poinciana trees here.”
They’re also trying to build pride in the community in another way: introducing students to the song “Poinciana.” It was written by Henry Bernier and Nat Simon for use in the 1952 film “Dreamboat” and used once again in the 1995 movie “The Bridges of Madison County.” It’s since become a standard.
Campbell said she loved the idea of teaching her students to perform it.
“We sing it in our classroom,” she said.
Claudio said these projects help students learn about Poinciana. When the young students planted those tiny seeds, he said, they were brimming with excitement.
Standing before the burgeoning tree in front of the school, Claudio noted that “All the little kids took part in planting this tree.”
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