Behind the Scenes with Arbor Day Poster Contest Winner

Sarah at Arbor Day ceremony
from left: Sarah Werner, 2017 winner of the statewide 5th grade Arbor Day poster contest; Warwick Mayor Michael Newhard; and Patricia Reinhardt, chair of the Arbor Day Committee and a member of Warwick Valley Gardeners. Photo by Denise Werner

Last spring, many students from the Warwick Valley Central School District took part in the 2017 Arbor Day Ceremony on April 28th at Stanley-Deming Park, co-hosted by the Village of Warwick and Warwick Valley Gardeners. Among them was fifth grader Sarah Werner, whose artwork on the theme of “Defend New York’s Forests” was chosen as the statewide Arbor Day poster contest winner. We talked with Sarah and her Mom, Denise, about this achievement and about their personal connection with trees.


Sarah: When I saw the theme ‘Defend New York’s Forests’, I thought of a fantasy where the forest had a shield, like a knight protecting the forest. The forest is behind the shield, but different kinds of trees are featured in front of it. My Mom taught me how to paint trees. I’ve been into art since I was very little, where I started with finger painting. My favorite trees are the maples because of all their fall colors. Trees always calm me. They put me in a peaceful mind place.

Denise: Since Sarah was a baby, my husband and I have taken her hiking in the forest near us, Wawayanda State Park. From six months old on she was out there in a backpack with us. Also since Sarah learned to walk, she helped me water newly planted spruce trees around the property. Those experiences influenced her awareness of trees and why trees are good for the environment. 

students performing at arbor Day
Warwick Valley Middle School musicians provided musical accompaniment for the District’s spring 2017 Arbor Day celebration. Photo from WVCSD

Sarah: I thought it was just a school contest at first, but then my teachers were congratulating me for the statewide win and I was like, ‘Wait-what?!’ I feel honored and surprised because there are a lot of great artists in my school. I would tell kids who are thinking about doing posters now, that it’s a lot of fun and also they should enter the contest because trees are really important. It’s nice to see all the green scenery; things would be boring without trees. We need greenery.

Denise: At first I was shocked to get a phone call from her teacher saying Sarah had won the statewide contest. And then the hardest thing was to keep the news from her for a whole month, as my husband and I decided to let her find out from school instead of from us. We wanted her to be surprised. The Warwick Valley Middle School principal made an announcement through the PA system, and Sarah’s teacher was able to take a video of Sarah jumping up and down when she learned that she had won.

sarah and family use!
The Arbor Day Award Ceremony was a special day for Sarah Werner (middle), her Mom, Denise (far right), and Sarah’s two grandmothers, Toni and Amy (beside Sarah). From left in back: NYSDEC Urban Forestry’s Mary Martin and Sally Kellogg; NYSUFC President Karen Emmerich, and Warwick Mayor Michael Newhard. Photo NYSDEC

The Award ceremony in Albany was wonderful, very exciting. Three generations of us went—Sarah, myself, and Sarah’s two grandmothers. We all got to learn more about why trees are so important in the urban environment, we met mayors from all over the State, and Sarah was approached by a few people to autograph her poster. That was very cool for an 11-year-old.

I hope our experience would inspire other parents to encourage their kids to participate in the Arbor Day Poster Contest when they are in fifth grade because there is so much to learn about Arbor Day and trees in the region. It’s also an opportunity to learn alongside your child. When Sarah came home with the theme and the desire to participate in the contest, we did some research as a family. As a result, we learned more about trees and what they do for our environment, and my husband can identify 15+ species (over 75 trees) on our property.

Participating in the Arbor Day Poster Contest is a fun way for kids to express their creativity and also to promote the importance of protecting our forests and always think of green and healthy living.

Thank you to the NYSDEC, especially Mary Kramarchyk, Sally Kellogg and staff, for this opportunity and a memorable experience. Thank you to the Arbor Day Foundation, to the NYS Urban Forestry Council, and thank you to Sarah’s wonderful teachers!

Learn about next year’s contest, with artwork due January 5, 2018, here.

Sarah and classmates
Photo by Denise Werner

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