SHELDON — Educational technology specialist Mike Webber wants students to connect with the land, and to grow with it. Literally.

Webber, who teaches at Sheldon Elementary School, spent the day outside Thursday helping students of all ages plant blueberry bushes, apple trees, and blue spruce trees in one of the school’s grassy fields behind its nature center.

Students were to be found with shovels, a large garden hose, wheelbarrows, and muddy hands, carefully placing the young plants in their new homes.

The plants were bought at a USDA tree sale with a $500 grant received through IBM.

The trees went into two fields included in the school’s 80 acres of woods and grass donated to the school’s forest committee by RockTenn in the 1990s. Students work outside throughout the year on projects such as surveying the forest in warmer months and maple sugaring in the cooler months.

Webber, who is the forest committee chair, thought caring for the planted trees and bushes was one more way to connect students to the outdoor world. Students will water, prune, and do anything else needed for the trees and bushes in their free moments during the school year, and the forest committee will care for them in during school vacation.

“We’re trying to be a place-based school,” Webber said. “The trees will help that process happen.”

The fourth grade math classes, led by teacher Sarah Phillips, designed and planned out the plots for yesterday’s plantings and put in the apple trees and blueberry bushes. The kindergarten, first grade, and second grade classes all planted spruce trees, one per student.

Every kindergarten class after this year will plant a host of new spruce trees to take care of, said Webber.

The idea is to allow each of the younger students to nurture a spruce tree for the years that student is at Sheldon School, to have the tree grow with the child. During the winter before students graduate from the 8th grade, Webber plans for each child to take his or her own tree home for the holidays, or alternately, to donate a tree to an area family in need of a holiday tree.

“It’s a longitudinal study of the tree as well as connection to the school and this piece of land,” Webber said.

For the fourth graders who helped out yesterday, Webber said, “The connection for them would be the apple trees, the blueberry bushes,” which, if all goes well, will have fruit by the time the older students graduate.

Every tree and bush planned for Sheldon School’s two fields was planted yesterday in the five-hour block designated for the project. Phillips said, “[That’s] perfect – tomorrow’s going to be a rainy day,” adding that everything will have a chance to grow.