Moon Tree a symbol of Wright State grad’s can-do attitude

Lake Campus graduate Rachel Tebbe successfully applied for a tree grown from a seed that orbited the moon for Coldwater Elementary School, where she was a student teacher.

Over the summer, many teachers usually take a break from school duties. Not so much for Rachel Tebbe.

Every day she returns to Coldwater Elementary School to water a tree. It’s not your usual tree, and Tebbe is not your usual teacher.

To Tebbe, who earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Wright State University–Lake Campus in the spring, that tree “is my baby right now.”

It grew from a seed that orbited the moon in 2022 on the Artemis II uncrewed mission — hence it’s called a Moon Tree.

Tebbe did the paperwork that landed that tree, now about five feet tall, at Coldwater in May, much to the delight of the third-grade class where she was student-teaching and the rest of the school.

The roots of securing the Moon Tree go back to last fall. Tebbe, who was a senior at Wright State’s Lake Campus, created a science-based project involving the community for her science method course.

Tebbe credits Betsy Jo Crites, education coordinator at the Lake Campus, with suggesting the Moon Tree. The application process for one of the 50 available trees would be arduous, but Crites was confident in Tebbe’s ability to write a well-received application.

“She knew I was an author and would be good at it,” said Tebbe, who published “Time,” a young-adult dystopian fantasy novel, when she was a high school senior in her hometown of St. Henry.

Tebbe completed the application for the tree last September. Then, silence.

“We heard nothing, so I assumed we hadn’t gotten a tree because there were about 1,300 applicants and only 50 trees,” she said.

Then things happened quickly. Tebbe got word from NASA and the U.S. Forest Service that a Moon Tree would be delivered to the Coldwater school. The sweet gum arrived a week and a half later, and it was planted with the help of a local landscaping company.

“My application had to come up with a detailed care plan for how to protect the tree and for it to survive,” Tebbe said.

A big part of the application was how the tree would be used to encourage education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“STEM is becoming a bigger thing in a lot of schools,” Tebbe said. “In the application, I discussed how I was a woman in STEM, and for a long time STEM was thought of just for boys, but it’s not. I applied saying that STEM subjects are for everybody.”

The tree is located by the school’s football field, off a side road near another sweet gum planted in 2016.

There’s nothing to denote how special the tree is — for now. Tebbe said a planting party will be scheduled with activities and a contest to name the tree.

“Once it’s named, we’ll get a plaque with information about the tree,” she said.

In the meantime, Tebbe visits the Moon Tree daily to be sure it is well – and if she can’t be there, she said the school generously steps in.

Tebbe, who married and moved with her husband to Coldwater in November, is writing a sequel to “Time,” which she published under her maiden name, Werling, called “Escape,” which she hopes will be published next year.

Tebbe spoke glowingly of her experience at Wright State’s Lake Campus.

“Everything I know about the classroom came about through my education,” she said. “Wright State gives you the opportunity to be in three different classrooms to observe for a semester and a fourth to do teaching.”

She will always be part of the Coldwater school because of the Moon Tree, which she said is a monument not only to STEM but also of hope.

“The goal is for it to be a symbol that anything’s possible,” she said. “This is a small town, and the feeling in small towns is that they get overlooked. The tree will stand as a monument that you can do anything you put your mind to.”

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