Joyce Kilmer’s famous poem, Trees, touches the heart of a child’s wonder amidst nature, a wonder that should not depart from us as we age.
“I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
a tree that looks at God all day and lifts her leafy arms to pray;
a tree that may in summer wear a nest of robins in her hair;
upon whose bosom snow has lain; who intimately lives in rain.
Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree.”
At Borromeo Academy, first graders gather around a tree outside our school building each month. In their “Tree Journal,” they draw it in summer, autumn, winter, and spring using crayons, pencils, or paintbrushes. They write accompanying stories from interior perspectives of the tree as well as exterior perspectives of observers and passers-by who pause near it. They witness it change with the seasons and grow with the years. Like the boy in The Giving Tree, they possess experiential knowledge of a tree having climbed trunks, sat on branches, played in leaves, and eaten fruit. Now they gain academic knowledge of it through art, literature, music, science, poetry, even religion. As young students share with me the depth of their connection to the tree, I am amazed by their understanding, imagination, and creativity.
For over thirty-two years, I have presided at School Masses and attempted various ways to reach children with messages from The Bible. For that many years, I made up poems as homilies in hopes that the words of Jesus and His love for the children would stick with them better and resonate in their minds and souls. My poems are often silly but they contain lessons that I believe are worthwhile and sometimes memorable—I periodically run into twenty to forty-somethings who mention one that they recall. And though poems are made by fools like me, only God can make a tree.
Only God can take created things and human things and use them to point at divine things that accompany us along earth’s journey. The classical liberal arts model of learning, which is offered at Borromeo Academy, helps our student-scholars remain rooted in beauty, truth, and goodness while they branch out to various disciplines of learning. Like a tree that is rooted in the ground and branches out to the sky, our children, guided by tremendous teachers, embrace their wonder for life through an acquired love of learning. The more I am connected to this method of educating, the more I like it and eagerly approach each new school year. During the initial two years of switching to this model, our students’ academic scores have increased significantly, along with their knowledge of religion, understanding of faith, and more positive attitude toward school in general.
If you would like to learn more about Borromeo Academy and the classical model that we employ for elementary-age children in Kansas City’s northland, please feel free to contact our school principal, Ann Lachowitzer, or development director, Jennifer Harris: 816-436-1009, firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com. Much as The Giving Tree begins: “once there was a tree and she loved a little boy,” so does our elementary school experience begin with children and their families discovering God’s grace in creation while developing a love for learning. Rooted in wonder, faith, and morality, students will branch out to new heights of wisdom, assurance, and happiness along the road to heaven.