POINCIANA – When Arbor Day arrives later this month, the students at Palmetto Elementary School will be ready for it — with seeds, and perhaps even a song.
Because that week, said Fernando Valverde, the local school will be offering lessons in the environment — and in the history of a community that is still very much in the early stages of its existence.
“A second Poinciana tree will be planted on the school grounds,” said Valverde. “We’re expecting the students to explain the history of the Poinciana tree, and where the name came from. This is an educational project, created to develop pride in the students.”
The timing has to do with more than simply Arbor Day, which is held on Friday, April 27 and is designed to encourage people to plant, nurture and celebrate trees. A day earlier, the Palmetto students will be doing just that — but it will be a Royal Poinciana tree that they’re planting.
For Valverde, who has been spearheading this project for more than a year now, it’s also about the history of a community that’s still growing, and a place where the very transient residents may not know much about how Poinciana came to be an area hosting 10 villages cut across two counties, Polk and Osceola.
Next year, Poinciana will celebrate 40 years as a community. The community experienced a surging residential construction boom in the last decade, and the local population soared past 84,000.
Valverde 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 Poinciana, which was hard hit by the collapse of the housing market in 2008.
Last year, he got Palmetto Elementary School on the Polk County side of Poinciana to plant two Royal Poinciana trees on the school grounds, making this a long term project for future generations of students to take part in.
Valverde is 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.
These projects are designed to help students learn about Poinciana.
On Thursday, April 26 at 1 p.m. at Palmetto Elementary, there will be a National Tree Day ceremony when a Polk County proclamation will be read before the new tree gets planted.
“Tree Day is a national celebration, and the states have the ability to set the date they want for it,” Valverde said. “No sense having a Tree Day in December.”
A week earlier, Polk County commissioners will recognize this tree planting ceremony by issuing a proclamation in honor of it. On Tuesday, April 17, Valverde is encouraging Poinciana residents to consider attending the Polk County Board of Commissioners meeting at 9 a.m. in Bartow, when commissioners are expected to issue the proclamation. Valverde said the wording of the proclamation is about 85 percent complete and will be ready in time for the commission meeting.
“The schools have been invited to go to the county commission meeting in Polk, and the proclamation will be brought back to the school and read there, and the students will sing or perform the Poinciana song,” Valverde said.
This should be an important project for the entire community, he added. With Poinciana celebrating its anniversary this year, Valverde said, every opportunity needs to be found to encourage students to learn more about Poinciana’s history. And the community could host an annual tree planting ceremony, he said.
“Maybe each year it gets bigger and better,” he said. “We kind of put Poinciana on the map now. It’s amazing how much stuff has come out about Poinciana since we started doing this.”
To learn more about the Poinciana tree, log on to www.poiincianatree.com.
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