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Discovery Zone Takes Classroom into Nature

Fifth grader Brooke Groce leaned over to smell a wildflower.

“It doesn’t really have a smell,” she said, and recorded her observation on a sheet of paper as part of her science investigation in Discovery Elementary’s new Discovery Zone.

Around her, classmates collected data using cool technology to record humidity, ultra-violet rays and temperature. 

The natural area of native foliage complete with a walking path, bird houses and a circle of logs and stumps for sitting and reading, provides ample space for exploration. There are animal tracks to follow, insects to observe, rocks to turn over and planes to watch flying overhead.

From left, Ja'shawn Huges and Efrain Carranza look at a grasshopperA labor of love three years in the making, students, teachers, administrators and community members recently dedicated the zone. The space behind the school is used for projects crossing all subjects, and simply to enjoy.

“Discover a flower, a plant, a butterfly, something you’ve never seen before and it catches your interest and helps you think like a scientist,” teacher Jason Dunn told students during the dedication. “Or just find a spot to read and be in nature.

Maureen Kaczanowski, whose children attended Discovery, began transforming the space from an unused field to an outdoor education area three years ago.

Allen Edwin Homes donated all materials for a pavilion and the East Kentwood High School residential building class, led by teacherKyle Croskey, built the structure last spring. Donations from other area businesses included Grand Rapids Gravel, which provided many van loads of rocks for the path. Loads of wood chips and large logs or students to sit on were donated and delivered by Bartlett Tree Service.

Kaczanowkski said two more phases are planned on the zone. The next could include adding Michigan plants that attract birds and butterflies and a water source.

A Connection with Real Scientists

Dunn, an adjunct faculty member at VanAndel Education Institute’s Science Academy, who was instrumental in development of the zone, said the mission is to get students outside interacting with and learning about their environment to inspire them to make a healthy impact on it now and in their future.

“What kids experience and learn about now will have a major impact on their decisions and our world in the future. Kids are our number one resource,” he said, noting they are using VanAndel’s science model at Discovery.

Teacher Pam Bird reads with second grader Zoey Pallick

An Outdoor Classroom

Second grade teacher Pam Bird’s class headed outside to spend quiet reading time sitting on logs, stumps and in the grass. “This is nice because it gives them a different place to read and enjoy,” she said.

They also enjoy it for science lessons, noticing grasshoppers and daddy longlegs.

“It’s really pretty that there are flowers everywhere,” said second grader Samiah Estes. “I’m really happy that Discovery did this for us.”

“It looks like camp. It’s totally beautiful,” added second grader Allie Cahill.


VanAndel Institute’s Science Education Site

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013, and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio


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