Watch CBS News

Kids can benefit from having access to nature. This photographer is bringing trees into classrooms – on the ceiling.

Photographer brings nature into classrooms
Photographer brings nature into classrooms – via the ceiling 03:04

Some of the classrooms at Taft Elementary in Santa Clara, California, have one flaw in common: They don't have windows. That's true for Logan Earnest's fifth grade classroom, and he felt it was affecting his students.

"Most of the day, 7/8 of the day, they're inside," Earnest told CBS News. "And they don't really get to see any trees, they don't get to see grass, the blue sky." He said the drab, beige walls could be draining on the kids and may effect their attention span and even their attendance. 

Former school psychologist Ernesto Rodriguez told CBS News the lack of windows does affect kids, because research shows being in and around nature eases anxiety and has benefits for students. 

Rodriguez is no longer a practicing psychologist – but perhaps he knows now more than ever the impact nature has on mental health. He became a park ranger on Southern California's Catalina Island and began focusing on his passion, landscape photography. 

Ernesto Rodriguez taking 360 degree shots of trees overhead. CBS News

It was during his training to become a park ranger that he learned a fact that stuck with him. "Kids who have views out windows to trees do better academically, emotionally and creatively. And more graduate and go to college," he said. "I thought, why isn't this being used?"

He had an idea to bring nature into rooms that were lacking and developed hospital curtains that he could print landscapes onto as a way to brighten dull rooms. Then, he had an aha moment to bring landscapes in classrooms – via the ceiling. 

"Having been a school psychologist, you don't touch teacher's walls. You do that, and they cut your hand off – both of them," Rodriguez joked. "So I thought, well let's use the ceiling, because they don't typically use the ceiling."

Rodriguez uses his photography skills to taken 360 degree shots of tree canopies, then he prints them and fits them onto ceiling tiles, so when you look up, it feels like you're sitting under a tree. "And it has all those elements of the science that helps calm you down, helps you focus and communicate," he said.

Part of the Nature in the Classroom installation on the ceiling of Logan Earnest's classroom. CBS News

He created a nonprofit called Nature in the Classroom and he's installed the tree canopies in 10 school districts so far. He takes all the photos himself and the canopies are often donated to teachers.

CBS News was there when he revealed the canopy to Earnest's fifth grade students. "Beautiful," one student said as she entered the room and saw the new addition.

A student named Octavio told us trees bring him peace. "It is surprising to see because any time you're inside of a school, you mostly don't see plants. Or trees. But now it's surprising to see that there's trees here," Octavio said. "I would say that it's pretty great and beautiful."

Logan Earnest and his fifth grade students at Taft Elementary in Santa Clara, California.  CBS News

Earnest said he thought there would be many positive effects on his students. "I think my attendance is going to go up. I think kids are going to want to come in here more frequently. Overall, I think the kids are going to be happier," he said.

Rodriguez says if you still don't believe in the science behind the art, you can try it yourself by going outside and looking up at the trees. 

"This is a marriage of both my careers as a school psychologist and a photographer," he said. "And to be able to create imagery – and spend time out in nature creating imagery that I know is going to help people – is really a motivator."

A view of the Nature in the Classroom installation and Octavio, a student in Earnest's fifth grade class. CBS News
View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.