The trees looked a bit sickly, but for the teen-age boys who have spent the last two weeks planting them on a lot next to William Tell Aggeler High School, the brown leaves and skinny trunks were easily overlooked.
Sixteen-year-old Rudy Martinez of Highland Park confidently predicted that the dozens of birch trees donated from Sperling Nursery in Calabasas would soon begin shooting upward, providing a green canopy over the hot, weedy vacant lot.
"I think this will look like a nice place," he said. "In 10 years, we'll know we did something good."
The birch trees, planted by Paul Schuster's high school and junior high agriculture and science classes, will be dedicated to the late Aggeler principal Robert J. Shiner, who died Nov. 16 after working 22 years at Aggeler. For the boys, most of whom are residents of Rancho San Antonio boys' home next door to the school, planting the trees provided a hands-on demonstration of the ecology lessons that they are studying in Schuster's class.
The trees "are in shock now," said Martinez, adding that they had been roughed up by their journey to the school but would now have a chance to recover--an unintentionally apt analogy for the students themselves, most of whom are court referrals, foster children or wards of the court, sent to Rancho San Antonio because their own homes are deemed unfit.
"This is the last stop for a lot of these kids," said Schuster.
Mauricio Cortez, 15, a Rancho resident, said a plaque would be erected for Shiner, who he recalled as "very tall, very caring. But he'd discipline us too."
Schuster said the white-barked trees would eventually grow about 30 feet high, and said the students may add a meadow and brick walkway and benches so the grove can serve as a sort of outdoor classroom.