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Greendale Middle School sixth-graders assisted the DPW in October by removing buckthorn from the woods adjacent to the middle school and Canterbury Elementary. Here you see it go from picked to pulp. Erik S. Hanley

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Greendale — If you see a group of kids in the woods pulling trees, you might think they're up to no good, but it was all for a good cause in Greendale recently.

In October, Greendale Middle School sixth-graders were pulling trees as they helped the village's department of public works to remove buckthorn from the school forest adjacent to the middle school and Canterbury Elementary School.

The students worked with the DPW to remove the trees while the village workers ground them up.

Willing workers

Despite the loud rumbling of the machine as it ate the trees, turning them into sawdust, you could still hear some happy comments from students and see some happy faces, glad to be outdoors on a Monday morning instead of sitting in class. (The event did link up to coursework, however.  The sixth-grade class will be studying invasive species and their impact on ecosystems later in the year.)

Sixth-grader Noah Adams said helping the environment was one of the things he was most happy about. Adams said his teacher, Becky Gang, gave a slideshow presentation in class and brought in buckthorn to show the class what it looked like. He said he expected it to be easy to identify after that, but it wasn't always, even though it was everywhere.

"Buckthorn was taking up all the space," Adams said.

Two other classmates echoed his comments, noting it wasn't easy to identify even after learning what to look for.

Sixth-grader Sammi Glatczak was looking for "leaves with rigid edges" while classmate Julia Gnadt said buckthorn reminded her of choke cherries.

"A lot looked like it," Glatczak said.

Both girls said they enjoyed their day out in the woods. Gnadt said she is glad to have been a part of the project to help the environment and is proud to look at the woods and say, "we did that."

All three students said they want to do it again.

Coordinated cuts

Marlene McIlheran, science teacher and Greendale Schools' forest coordinator, was involved in coordinating the efforts in the woods. She said the district is "lucky to have this shared resource" and it was a great learning experience for the students out in the woods.

Kitty Goyette, Greendale School District communications director, said the project was a win-win for the community and the students. She said the woods are used during and after school by community members and students. She noted that the buckthorn was lining the edges of the woods and was on top of their to-do list for forest management.

"Buckthorn is crowding out native plants and making entry and passage through the woods more difficult," Goyette said. "Buckthorn is making it harder for pedestrians, bikers and cars to navigate the back entrance of the school by the apartments."

Robby McFaul, the village's director of public works who was on-site during the removal, said buckthorn is a growing problem and it takes "time, money, and manpower to remove." However, he said projects like this give the DPW an opportunity to serve the community.

"We don't drive a red truck and don't carry guns, but anytime we can help, public works is there," McFaul said.

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