ORLANDO, Fla. – The sixth-grade "Florida Natives" class at Orlando's Monarch Learning Academy is putting the finishing touches on a research project that has captured the neighborhood's nostalgia for a simpler time.
Last year, Hurricane Irma passed through the I-4 Corridor, taking down many large trees. Among the fallen oaks and pines was a landmark in the College Park neighborhood of Orlando, known as the "Jump Tree." The oak tree likely sprouted on the western shore of Lake Ivanhoe in the late 1800s.
The stately oak was a gathering place for teens going back to the 1950s. Swinging from a rope attached to one of its giant branches was a rite of passage for generations.
"We really just wanted to bring the community and the school together," teacher Erin West said. "I was looking for something that could really connect the history and the community and it just kind of went from there."
West said the idea came to her after the storm when word of the fallen tree brought neighbors out of their homes to look at the damage on West Ivanhoe Boulevard.
"So many neighbors were walking down to the tree. It was kind of this emotional moment," West said. "People were actually taking little pieces of the tree."
Everyone had a story to share about the tree, West said. She knew there was an emotional connection to the tree that once stood only blocks from the school.
Research on the school project began soon after the idea. The class used lessons from core subjects, including science, history, writing and art, to create the exhibit. The students learned about tree rings, created a timeline of world events that happened in the tree's lifetime and wrote reports about their findings.
The 6th grade class put the word out that it was looking for photos, video and stories about the tree and received more than 70 submissions from people of all ages.
"Its just one of those simple past times," West said. "We're kind of in this generation where we all have cellphones and we're looking at tablets. The idea of just swinging from a jump tree is just something that connects all the generations. It's just so rare."
With the help of a grant from the College Park Neighborhood Association the class was able to enlarge, print and frame many of the images that show kids gathered, bikes surrounding the tree and kids swinging from its rope swing.
The exhibit will be on display and open to the public beginning May 22 in the Monarch Learning Academy's community room at 1914 Edgewater Drive.