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Teachers Foster Student, Community Interaction

Planting native trees, creating a butterfly garden, and singing with seniors are just a few of the ways students at Sparta Area School’s Appleview Elementary are engaging with their community throughout the year.

Teachers Sue Blackall, Kevin Shuneson and Larry Carter, who are just some of those who feature community involvement in their lessons, presented recently to Sparta’s School Board on the importance of connecting students to their community.

Sparta resident Robert Shangle is known throughout Michigan for his “Live Statue” exhibit. On the history walk he posed as an original founder of Sparta Township

In a 10-year initiative, teachers take their 2nd-4th grade students to Harvest Way Retirement Community monthly to have lunch, play bingo, sing songs and perform a reader’s theater presentation for residents.

“We want our kids to experience the wisdom and the love that our senior neighbors have and are willing to give.” said Shuneson, who said the main purpose for these trips is relationship building.

Connecting through Conservation

Blackall merges community conservation projects with the K-7 science standards to help her students actively think about environmental impact from human use of natural resources. She also teaches about the interaction between humans and animals in the global food chain.

Her students have planted 3,000 wildflowers, plus 45 trees and bushes over the last few years as part of the project.

Last year, her class planted native flowers to provide a livable environment for butterflies, which, as Blackall teaches, will help restore the base food chain and stimulate the ecosystem. This year, they planted flowers and grasses in a runoff ditch to help filter storm water as it runs into Nash Creek.

“We should all plant native Michigan plants,” said fifth grader Chloe Noffke. “Once we get all of the plants planted, we could look back at this in a couple of years and say, ‘I helped to provide critical habitat for wildlife.'”

Even students not in her class, along with community members, are invited to help with the planting and other activities. Blackall said that the more students interact with nature by age 11, the more they will feel connected to it and want to take better care of it. A parent echoed that idea in a thank you she wrote: “I am certain that your energy will spread in your students to hopefully have them ‘make a difference’ in taking care of our home.”

Blackall said that outdoor interactive projects helps some students get more engaged with what they are learning in class. “Some of the students who have a hard time sitting in their seats, often become leaders and the hardest workers outside,” she said.

-Sue Blackall

A Walk through History

Fifth grade teacher Larry Carter has been getting his students into the community for 19 years with the historical walking tour, which transforms the community into a town-sized museum. Community members give information and personal memories at different historical sites around Sparta. During the tour, others drive their antique cars around town to show them to students. SNN coverage on Walking Tour 

Students bundle up to spend the day planting trees and wildflowers


Sue Blackall’s Blog

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Adrian Hirsch
Adrian Hirsch has been with SNN since its launch, starting as an intern from Grand Valley State University where he received a degree in broadcasting and business. After the internship, Adrian was brought on as staff to continue reporting, editing and publishing stories for SNN and Kent ISD. Adrian has been active with community radio station WYCE for years, served as Non-Profit Coordinator for GRTV, and currently works as the Web Producer for SNN.


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