Poinciana students may be asked next year to start planting trees to beautify the community -- including the Royal Poinciana. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

POINCIANA – Fernando Valverde has a dream, a lofty ambition, about the community that he now lives in, Poinciana.
It involves school children, and civic pride, and it includes music and history lessons and public celebrations. Most of all, it covers the heritage of a community whose history dates back to the 1940s – even if it sometimes feels like Poinciana experienced its strongest level of growth and maturity in the past decade, when a residential construction boom caused the local population to soar past 80,000.
Valverde, who lives at Solivita on the Polk County side of Poinciana, knows the history runs much deeper than that – even if a lot of others might not realize that.
“I want us to have a long range vision,” he said.
That vision is a part of what Valverde is calling Project Poinciana: an effort on his part, and through the civic group that he’s a member of, Poinciana Residents for Smart Change – to build pride in the community’s heritage, particularly among school children.
“This is a year-three program,” he said. “What is this project, and why are we doing it? I can tell you it involves a place, person, tree, and song … and our heritage.”
Valverde wants to encourage local schools to teach children the song “Poinciana,” written by Henry Bernier and Nat Simon, and first used in the 1952 film “Dreamboat” and again in the 1995 movie “The Bridges of Madison County.” It’s become a standard, covered by such artists as Percy Faith, Vic Damone, Johnny Mathis, and the Four Freshmen.
“Why is this song important?” he said. “It’s the official song of Poinciana – and it’s called ‘Poinciana.’ It’s not called ‘New York, New York.’ There are 864 versions of it on iTunes, and this song has been translated into Spanish, Italian and Portuguese.”
Tony Claudio is also a member of Poinciana Residents for Smart Change, which is working to improve the community. He’s also a volunteer at Palmetto Elementary School in Poinciana and thinks it’s a great idea to let local students know the community has its own song – and to teach them to sing it.
“Every time we have an activity at the school, like a graduation ceremony, we’re trying to include the song,” he said. “We’re trying to implement that so all the schools in Poinciana will use this song. We’re trying to bring up the kids to believe this community is important. We will not only be singing it, but performing it at the schools.”
Valverde said he also wants to involve the students in a project that merges the community’s heritage with some environmental lessons, courtesy of the Royal Poinciana, a tree brought to Central Florida from Madagascar, Africa.
“It was brought to Florida by Henry Flagler,” he said. “Who is Henry Flagler? He’s the Harris Rosen of his time.”
Rosen is the president and CEO of Rosen Hotels & Resorts Inc. in Orlando. Flagler is the developer of some of the earliest hotels built in St. Augustine. As Valverde noted, the Royal Poinciana tree was brought to the state because the developers needed trees to plant around the hotel properties.
“The Poinciana is not a Spanish fruit you eat with rice and beans,” Valverde said. “It’s a tree.”
It’s one that he hopes to see planted in the community – by Poinciana’s students.
This would be part of a special project that involves history lessons and learning about how plants grow once the seeds are put in the ground.
“It would be an education tool for Poinciana’s youth,” said Wendy Farrell, another member of the Smart Change. “It’s to tie in with Arbor Day and Earth Day. It’s a three year program in various schools.”
Arbor Day is on April 27 next year, and Earth Day, on April 22, 2012.
“Our goal here is educational,” Valverde said. “It’s long range, it’s to reach the kids. If the kids can learn, what will they learn? History. Georgraphy. Culture. Landscaping. If you plant a garden, you plant happiness.”
This is an ambitious project, noted Darhlene Zeanwick, a member of Smart Change. But she added that it’s a great idea to find creative ways to inspire Poinciana’s students.
“It’s hard to pull together, but as Fernando says, if we can bring our kids into it, we can accomplish a lot,” she said.
Valverde said he also has a lot of faith in Poinciana’s schools, which is why he started working on this project.
“We have some excellent schools and excellent teachers,” he said. “This is all being done to reach out to and motivate our kids. We hope they come back here and live here after they graduate.”

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