Nearly two dozen high school students converged on a 150-foot tall, downed oak tree in Green-Wood Cemetery on Wednesday, December 12. These students, all from Williamsburg High School for Architecture and Design, were on scene to help in whatever way they could.
The behemoth shared the same story as many other recently downed trees in Green-Wood; it was felled by strong winds from Hurricane Sandy and, on its way down, damaged some of the very old and historic tombstones and monuments the cemetery is known for.
“Half of the trees that fell, fell on monuments” said Art Presson, Green-Wood’s superintendent of grounds. He estimated that nearly 300 trees — many of them large — were damaged in the storm. As the cemetery’s staff has been stretched thin by clean up efforts since, he was ecstatic to have some extra help.
The army of students consisted of all volunteers. “The school was offering it, so I decided to help out,” said one 12th-grader Felix Vargas. “It’s a great way to help the community, and the grounds are amazing to see.”
After cemetery staff cut tree branches into moveable sizes, students donned hard hats and gloves and went to work. The school’s Assistant Principal Giovanni Damato led his students to and from the tree as they ferried branches and other debris to a large pile that would later be put through a wood chipper.
Damato saw this as the perfect opportunity to give back to the community while teaching his students a bit about architecture. From an architectural perspective, Green-Wood was “truly the first, amazing, and comparable to Central Park,” he said. After the day’s work was done, he hoped he’d be able to take his students on a tour of the grounds.
This was the school’s second time assisting with the cleanup efforts. Stephanie Ortiz, program assistant for the World Monument Funds, put school and cemetery officials in contact with one another. The World Monuments Fund helps schools find hands-on architectural projects their students can help with. Both Ortiz and Damato believe their students will continue helping at Greenwood for at least the next few weeks.