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Records not aim of Hillsborough students' tree planting

TAMPA — In celebration of Earth Day, thousands of Hillsborough County students set out to break a world record Tuesday by planting more than 10,000 trees in an hour.

Exactly what world record they had their sights on was not clear. But while some children may be disappointed to learn they're a long shot for the Guinness record book, their efforts were not without a valuable life lesson: Doing good for the Earth is its own reward.

"This isn't about the world record," Hillsborough Superintendent MaryEllen Elia said. "This is about the importance of the environment."

That's why school officials said they agreed to participate in the effort, organized by a Tampa-based company with a green focus that launched operations on Earth Day.

Company officials said Hillsborough students did set a tree-planting world record. They provided an Internet link to a 2005 document from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, mentioning a "record of 4,100 trees planted worldwide in one hour on Earth Day."

"We didn't do this for the Guinness Book of World Records," said Eric Canonico, president and CEO of PunchlistComplete.com, which specializes in real estate enhancement and repair. "We did it because it was a really cool thing to do."

But it's easy to see how students could have gotten confused.

One school district news release said students would attempt to set a Guinness World Record. Another was carefully worded to avoid specific references to which record would be broken.

Rep. Kevin Ambler, a Lutz Republican, mentioned the Guinness record during remarks at the media event at Hillsborough High School. Ambler got the school district onboard with PunchlistComplete.com, whose CEO is a friend.

And no one, not even students, could miss the forest for the trees.

"We didn't think about breaking a record. We just wanted to plant trees," said Hoan Le, a 17-year-old Hillsborough High senior. "I want to come back and see my tree grow."

Canonico still planned to submit documentation of the tree-planting to Guinness. He said his company spent nearly $2,000 on the Longleaf pine saplings. Every school was to plant 38, in honor of Earth Day's 38th anniversary.

That record is a long shot at best. Guinness tries to stay away from retroactive claims of mass participation events.

But record-breaking was not the focus of the Earth Day planting and celebration at Carrollwood Elementary. Students were serenaded by kindergartners, who to Woody Guthrie's This Land Is Your Land, sang their own rendition: "Reuse your bottles, recycle plastic, Let's keep our water clean.''

"They've never done anything like this before, and I'm not sure they would even have been aware of Earth Day,'' said Tiffany Rix as her son, Steven, planted one of the school's 38 pine seedlings. "He was so excited this morning. He wanted to make sure he wore a good shirt.''

Times staff writers Jackie Ripley and Elisabeth Dyer contributed to this report. Letitia Stein can be reached at lstein@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3400. For more education news, visit The Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Records not aim of Hillsborough students' tree planting 04/22/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 22, 2008 10:48pm]
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