Leaf Relief

Inspiration, courage, refining and iteration are four words that guided the process of our art project this semester with artist Rebecca Schwarz. On the evening of Monday, May 16, we celebrated the project at the top of the escalators at Burlington High School.  Rebecca introduced us to her ‘artivism’ at the beginning of the semester and with her guidance, BCL 8 created “Leaf Relief” by using mind mapping and thumbnail strategies, by taking inspiration from many art forms and other artivists, and by practicing ways to collaborate and reach consensus. Check out what BCL 8 students said about the process and meaning of the project. Enjoy the photos that also help tell the story of the canopy-mobile installation.

The ‘Leaf Relief’ mobile in Downtown BHS



Art and activism work with each other and art is able to change minds and hearts, to achieve the goal of activism. This is my hope for our art project. I hope the art is powerful enough to move and inspire people about the topic of climate change. 

In BCL we have spent time learning about the value of trees; specifically how they are natural climate solutions.  When we think about climate solutions, we often think of technology. But in BCL we have considered trees as climate solutions. 

– Sadie 

This week we’ve been focusing a lot on art and what it can do for people, and what it does for us personally. If I had to come up with a new insight that I got from spending time with Rebecca, I would say that art not only expresses people, but it also connects them. I’ve always known that art is a way to express yourself, but I’ve never really thought of it as something that connects people. This idea came up for me when we visited the UVM museum. Our museum guide talked about how the museum we were visiting was not a strict museum that prohibited people from doing most things, but sort of an interactive one. She said there were chairs situated in different areas of the museum to get people to talk about the art pieces. I had written in my notebook, “the museum is focused on people, rather than just the objects.” To be honest, I would have never guessed that was one of the purposes of the chairs, I would have just guessed it was meant to be a place to rest after looking at the art. 

   – Adrien

This art piece is the beginning of young people learning how to take care of our planet. It represents the education we are receiving about our environment, and about how valuable it is, and how to take care of it. Before working on the tree, our BCL class learned about the value of trees and what they do for the environment and for humans. Trees aren’t just essential for slowing climate change. Exposure to trees reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and improves mood. Numerous studies show that both exercising in forests and simply sitting looking at trees reduces blood pressure as well as the stress-related hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. This is one example of why we chose to create an art project about trees. We need trees, and we need people to know that. 

 ~ Kaj

We spent a lot of time trying to decide just what medium we were gonna use. We talked about doing a collage, murals, music, sculpture or event. After a couple classes of discussion and all talking about ideas and time frames we decided that we wanted to make a sculpture that was going to go up in DTBHS. Why a sculpture? One, because as a group we wanted to use our artist-in-residence, Rebecca’s skills to the fullest. Rebecca is an insanely cool artist that makes really crazy sculptures from wire, trash and lights. Why a tree and why at DTBHS? In BCL this semester we have focused a lot on climate change and specifically all that trees do to keep our world spinning round, sequestering carbon, cooling our streets, keeping the ground together, cleaning our water etc… we also wanted to bring some “nature” into DTBHS. We thought with the lack of windows and natural light having a flowing sculpture that mimics a tree could help a little with livening up the place. Also just having more student art at BHS makes it feel more like a school and less like a department store.  

   – Oli


We wanted this project to have a bigger meaning and bring attention to the issue of climate change. We have learned about climate change in BCL and all agreed it was a topic we were passionate about. This semester Zoe Richards taught us about the importance of trees in our natural world. This learning with Zoe was part of the inspiration for our art project. We have brought some facts about trees as a natural climate solution to share with y’all.  

  – Elodie

When my family lived in Nepal, before we came to Burlington, we had lots of fruit trees all around us: Mango trees, lychee trees, jackfruit. (We also had banana trees, but they are actually not trees, they are plants.) I loved to eat the fruit from all these trees, but we also used to collect the fruit and sell it for money. Trees gave us food, shade, and money. Ever since then I have thought about trees as heroes. Also remember that trees are a natural climate solution. 

  – Priya

The meaning of this art project is to connect people, and to show that we can all belong in this community of the school. When students come to school, they should be able to feel inspired for something, don’t you think? That is why we make this. This beautiful mobile tree with colorful leaves that you can see hanging on the wall, represents the union, friendship that exists in our class of BCL. We wanted these ideas and values to be in our sculpture. We worked on cutting leaves, and adjusting them on the branches, putting some words and messages like communication, guidance and growing. At first I had no idea what this project would look like, until I saw positive results. I want to thank Rebecca, our art teacher because she went through every step with us. When I understood that art projects should be connected to our daily life at school, I thought about the messages that I wrote and how it could bring love and peace in someone’s heart. I just think this was a fantastic idea, and this was the first time in so long that I felt good, and that I felt that I belonged in a community and with nature. I hope that everyone at school can also feel at peace while they see this project and with a lot of love. 

   – Natalia


When I was younger trees were my way of happiness. A lot of the things I did involved trees and I didn’t even know until I actually thought about it. Whether it was climbing, picking fruit, or even using it as shade for a hangout spot I didn’t know the values the trees held but now that my BCL class and I do, we are trying to give back to the trees while also educating and impacting other people’s lives. Putting a tree mobile in school is a really good idea because school is a place where youth spend most of their time. It’s also a good way of bringing trees indoors because most people only think of trees when outdoors but having this indoors will have people thinking about trees at all times. I hope this project has a positive impact on people when it’s done because it for sure had an impact on me while working on it.       

           –  LJ

Calm and Strong

Standing firm,

but swaying.

Retaining structure,

but being at the whims of the wind.

While the squirrel climbs and chews,

the sparrow gathers and assembles.

The fungus grows and multiplies,

the sun pours down onto everything below.

The bark runs rough and firm beneath my palm,

leaving space for the bright buds and smooth leaves.

The tree welcomes every way of existing,

gathering its true integrity

from the multitude of forms that life has created.  

– Tess

Family. This is the one word that comes into my mind when I think of trees. Trees need roots to stay anchored to the ground just like how a family is anchored by their roots. Having roots helps people make lifelong connections to their community. 

    – Gussie

Trees help us in many ways. They help us breathe, and give us food like apples and oranges. But most importantly they give us shade. When it’s a really hot day, sitting under the cool calming shade of a tree is very relaxing to me. When I am outside playing basketball and I take a water break I always go into the shade just to cool off. I hope that our art project will help everyone realize how important trees are. 

    – Ozzie

When I think of trees I think of calm. The way they sway in the wind, give safe shelters for animals, and let alone give us clean oxygen to breathe. Trees provide a safe and calm space for both people and animals to occupy. Striving to keep our earth clean sets us up positively for a happy and clean life ahead. 

    – Emma

When I was little I used to climb maple trees mostly because… well, you know, it was fun… Shiny skies with beautiful stars and just calm, quiet. I can still remember and picture that day like it was yesterday, the… soothing and nice smell of leaves and the brightest different colors that bloomed during spring and leaves falling out of the trees with tropical colors in the fall. What I know or think about trees is that they make me feel alive. Trees make me feel calm when I am stressed out. They make me feel a kind of belonging, so please let’s save our trees. 

    – Boniface

The word that I want this project to celebrate about trees is diversity. Trees do so much more than just suck carbon out of the air. They can cool cities, improve air quality, and calm people down. They can even be used to help solve social justice issues. Trees have been shown to make neighborhoods safer and more prosperous. Trees can really do everything and I think that’s really special.   – Finley

I like to use the word healthy to describe trees. Trees give us healthy foods, healthy air and a very healthy environment. Without trees we would not be living a healthy life like people do today. I think trees are so overlooked even though they give us so many resources from paper, to food, to oxygen. All those things are needed to have a healthy environment. 

  – Gaby

Hope, trees are ultimately our last hope. Trees provide us with so many things we need like oxygen, shade, capturing CO2, and more. Learning about trees through the course of the art project has really opened my eyes to the reality of why trees are so important to our daily lives. I hope this project will help people start to plant trees and be more invested in the climate change problem. 

    – Jackson

The word that comes to mind for me when thinking about trees is home. This word comes to mind because of all the animals that make trees their homes and use trees for daily life. Trees make up forests where many different species of plants and animals can call their home. Trees can provide so many different things to all different animals. Trees can provide shelter from the elements, protection from predators, food, shade, and much more. Almost every animal I can think of relies on trees in some way, either directly or indirectly. The main reason I thought of the word home was because of all the animals that literally make the trees their home. Animals like raccoons, weaver ants, and most birds live in or on trees. Without trees, there would be so many animals left without a place to live. 

 – Anders

Reciprocity. When I think of trees, I think of power, I think of their kindness. I think about how many things they give us: Fruit, nuts, shelter, shade, clean water, oxygen. They give us shade from the hot sun and a home for wildlife. They provide, give, and protect. But in return, we do not provide. We do not give. We do not protect. Why do we take trees and their products for granted? Maybe because trees seem like they’re everywhere, it seems like there’s an abundance of them. But there is not; the trees are fading quickly, but we don’t see that; we only see their value to us. Reciprocity is a word to describe the mutually beneficial exchange between two beings. It should describe the relationship between trees and humans. But, really, trees give; we take. 


Trees have been giving back to the earth for all of their existence. Since the historical birth of trees on earth, many life forms have been able to develop. Trees are the reason that we are here today. The significant history behind the trees that surround me makes me feel like a small new addition to earth. It is important to protect the very source of our existence so that they can continue to provide us with life through the oxygen they produce. We should treat trees the way we treat our elders because they provide for us as much as your hardworking grandparents have worked to provide for you. To preserve history, trees need to be prioritized above the demand for wood or land. Trees need to be honored for the historical value they hold. 


Trees give life in many ways. When I am in the woods and surrounded by trees I feel more alive, and more happy. Trees give life to cities that would otherwise be bare stretches of concrete. A tree placed occasionally throughout a street makes a big difference. It brings the whole street together, and brings shade when it’s hot. Trees bring life to the world. Without them animals would have nowhere to live. The earth would be unlivable, and global warming would have taken our earth over a long time ago. Without trees this world would not function. Trees bring us life. 

   – Ethan

Maybe our piece doesn’t need a big flashy message on it that everyone can read plainly, but rather the impact will come through the process of its creation and the interpretation that the many faces at BHS will give it in the future. 

    – River

I think of art as a growth edge of life, and am excited for all that our project grew: connections between youth, families, elders, trees, and the power of nature. Making our world / community / high school a healthier place through relationship building, beautification, and connecting us to the healing powers of trees.

– Rebecca Schwarz


  • A single street tree returns over $90,000 of direct benefits (not including aesthetic, social, and natural) in the lifetime of the tree, for a planting cost of only $250-600 (includes first three years of maintenance).
  • A U.S. Forest Service study found that a 10 percent increase in tree canopy was associated with a roughly 12 percent decrease in crime.
  • Surgery patients who could see a grove of deciduous trees recuperated faster and required less pain-killing medicine than matched patients who viewed only brick walls.
  • Trees filter airborne pollutants by 9 to 13 percent, reducing the conditions that cause asthma.
  • Trees reduce annual heating and cooling costs for a typical residence by 8 to 12 percent and increase property values by 10 to 15 percent.
  • Trees properly placed around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30 percent and can save 20-50 percent in energy used for heating.
  • The net cooling effect of a young, healthy tree is equivalent to 10 room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.
  • In one year, an acre of forest can absorb the carbon dioxide produced by 2 average cars by the average American (15,000 miles).
  • Trees contribute to longer pavement life due to reduced heating/cooling (expansion/contraction) of asphalt.
  • Trees’ leafy canopy intercepts rainfall and reduces storm impacts on the ground by 10 to 40 percent.
  • One large tree can provide a day’s supply of oxygen for up to four people.
  • All the world’s forests removed about one-third of fossil fuel emissions annually from 1990 to 2007.
  • By providing shade, trees can lower surface and air temperatures around them as much as 20 – 30°F.
  • Just 3 mature trees, well-placed around a house, can save an average household between $100 and $250 in energy costs every year. 
  • Urban trees create 5 times more measurable benefits – calculated in dollars – than it costs to plant and tend them.
  • Tree roots in forest areas can capture about 80 percent of nitrate and phosphorus nutrients from farm runoff, preventing it from getting into rivers and lakes. 
  • Roadside trees reduce nearby indoor air pollution by more than 50%.

SOURCE: https://www.arborday.org/trees/treefacts/

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