CPS Arboretum

Dedicated in 1986, Crete Public Schools Arboretum became the first recorded arboretum at a public school in the United States of America. Today it is recognized as a ‘landscape steward’ site by the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum. With 100+ species and 400+ plants, the entire multiple school campus thrives as an arboretum. The two featured spaces - the sections southeast and southwest of Crete Middle School - are showcased for their environmental diversity, suitability as outdoor classrooms and access for public recreation.

Originally desolate fields, Crete Public School teachers, Michael “Mike” Coe and Mildred Conkling, envisioned an arboretum bustling with student learning. In the spring of 1979 the first trees were planted, thus making their shared vision a reality. For the next three decades, the arboretum would serve as a vibrant learning space for students. After Coe's retirement in 2012, interest in the arboretum waned.

In 2020, Beyond School Bells, a subsidiary of Nebraska Children and Families Foundation, bestowed grant funding to each afterschool program located within the 10 most COVID-19 stricken towns. Cardinal Community Learning Centers (CCLC), the afterschool program for Crete Public Schools, missioned to enrich student learning, encourage positive behavior and social interactions, and increase family and community engagement, was a recipient.

As a result, the CCLC Director, Joel Bramhall, acclaimed for authoring award-winning environmental education for inner city youth in Oklahoma City, designed a proposal to modernize the arboretum, and enhance nature-based learning capabilities. The project, dubbed ‘GPA’ (Greenhouse, Prairie & Arboretum), centered on fostering a ‘sense of place’ for students, while encouraging environmental stewardship, sustainable living and community wellness.

Today, the arboretum aims to be a model for outdoor experiential learning and a living testament to the value of nature.

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