Christian, Jewish and Muslim students gathered in unity Tuesday to plant five trees for peace.

More than 50 students assembled under the tall pines at Phelps Park for the 14th Annual Trees for Peace Interfaith Tree Planting Project. Sponsored by the City of Winter Park and the Multifaith Education Project, the program encourages children to appreciate diversity while building relationships with people of other faiths.

“We are truly planting seeds of love and friendship,” said Debra Medina, director of the Multifaith Education Project. Medina said the program teaches students to be stewards of the earth by learning about environmental responsibility from each faith and sharing them with one another.

Fifth and sixth graders from The Geneva School, the Jewish Academy of Orlando and Leaders Preparatory School met at each school to show off their religion and culture. Tuesday was their final meeting as they planted five trees and blessed them according to their faith.

Some of the prayers were taken from holy books and some were spoken from the heart.

“We pray that the trees will live and have a really long life in our community,” said Charley Turnbull, a sixth grader from The Geneva School in Casselberry.

Children from the Jewish Academy of Orlando read in unison:

“Each tree absorbs a bit of our pollution and then transforms it into oxygen, a source of life. Each tree is truly a tree of life.”

The City of Winter Park’s Urban Forestry Division helped the children plant a long leaf pine, redbud, slash pine, southern magnolia and tulip poplar. The city also donated a tree to each school so the students can hold their own tree planting ceremony at their respective schools. The students were encouraged to water the trees and watch their growth when they visit the park.

After the tree planting, the students shared a picnic lunch under the pavilion at Phelps Park. They chatted about their beliefs, their peanut butter preferences and whether Greek or plain yogurt was the healthier option.

“The children have learned about the differences between the faiths and we are celebrating that while enjoying each other’s company,” said Mike Beates, dean of students at the Geneva School.

About The Author

The youngest of seven children, Terry O. Roen followed two older brothers into journalism. Her career started as a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, where she wrote stories on city and county government, schools, courts and religion. She has also reported for the Associated Press, where she covered the Casey Anthony and Trayvon Martin trials along with the Pulse massacre. Married to her husband, Hal, they have two children and live in Winter Park. A lifelong tourist in her own state, she writes about Central Florida’s growing tourism industry for Florida Politics and Orlando Rising.

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