Finishing first is not always as good as it gets as a couple of Whitebead students used their artistic abilities to take the top two spots in a statewide poster contest for fifth-graders that celebrates trees.

What makes it even better is it’s the first time in the history of the Arbor Day contest by the Oklahoma Forestry Services a single school has won both first and second place in the same year.

It was Savannah Freeman who claimed first place while Cierra Sliger took second in the contest entitled “Shady Schools are Cool” — a contest designed for students to use a poster type drawing to depict sun-safe behavior and the importance of shade for playgrounds.

“That’s astounding,” Whitebead Principal Mary Smith said about her school’s students finishing in the top two spots.

“It speaks to the commitment of the teacher and her enthusiasm,” she said, referring to art teacher Susan Capers.

“She’s done a good job in working with the students. Kudos to her and our art students.”

Christina Stallings Roberson, an education coordinator with the Oklahoma Forestry Services, confirmed the two Whitebead students did indeed have a very rare accomplishment.

“This is the first time we’ve ever had first and second place come from the same school,” Stallings Roberson said.

She added the statewide contest has been offered to schools for nearly two decades.

Adding to the whole winning scenario is Stratford fifth-grader Skyler Moore earned an honorable mention in the contest.

As for the two Whitebead students, they will get a special recognition this week.

First there will be an assembly in their honor set for a 9 a.m. start on Thursday, March 31 at the school.

After that OG&E is donating two red bud trees to be planted in front of the school, also in their honor.

Later that same day a number of other trees will be planted around the Whitebead School campus as part of the concept to increase shade for students.

In this case the trees will be planted near the school’s track and softball field, Smith said.

As for a little history lesson, the first Arbor Day was held in Nebraska on April 10, 1872, thanks to the hard work and dedication of J. Sterling Morton. It was estimated that more than 1 million trees were planted on that day.

The idea quickly spread to other states and nations. Although there were newspaper accounts of Arbor Day tree plantings in Oklahoma Territory as early as 1890, Arbor Day was first observed “officially” in 1901.

The Territorial Legislature proclaimed that it would be the duty and responsibility of the School Children to Celebrate Arbor Day in perpetuity. 

In March 1982, Oklahoma declared a full “Arbor Week” to better recognize the value of tree planting as well as to avoid the harsh planting conditions of late winter.

Oklahoma’s Arbor Week is the last full week in March, while nationally it’s observed the last Friday in April.

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