A boy in search of environmental treasure announced its discovery to his classmates: “Storm drain, I found one!”
His three fellow explorers joined him, clipboards in hand, in the parking lot of C.A. Frost Environmental Science Academy High/Middle School. They were on a scavenger hunt around their new school, searching for evidence of erosion. Elsewhere, other seventh-graders in Mary Lewandoski’s environmental-lab class searched for grass, flowers and tree branches with distinctive leaf patterns to sketch.
All are contained on the wooded grounds of the newly opened C.A. Frost campus at the former Covell Elementary School on Grand Rapids’ West Side. Funded mostly by the $175 million bond issue approved by voters last year, the $7.7 million project expands the popular theme school into a grades 6-10 facility at the new site. Grades 11 and 12 will be added in the next two years.
Along with the original school at 1460 Laughlin Drive NW, which houses pre-K through fifth grade, C.A. Frost now enrolls nearly 850 students.
For Lewandoski, who’s taught her “e-lab” for close to 10 years, the new setting offers new possibilities for teaching students the values of environmental stewardship. Whether measuring the storm-water runoff generated by their school or exploring the woods just to the north, students will connect the lessons of the outdoors with their studies inside, she said.
“A lot of people think you have to go away to see nature, but it’s all around us,” said Lewandoski, who teaches grades six through eight. “It’s important for the kids to take ownership and to know that yes, this is where we live, this is what we need to help take care of.”
Love That Outdoor Classroom
That ecological ethic permeates every aspect of the new school, from classroom lessons to the disposable-free cafeteria where students take turns washing dishes. Waste food is composted, and drinking fountains tabulate how many plastic water bottles were saved by students refilling their own containers.
Students will also create a nature trail in the nearby woods, where Lewandoski plans to bring in tree stumps to create a student gathering place. They will study and plant native Michigan species, analyze the regional watershed, document the changes of seasons and hold classes in an open-air classroom. Trips to Richmond Park, Blandford Nature Center and the Grand River will enhance their awareness of creation.
“If we can get kids connected to nature, they’re going to want to do something to preserve it and leave the earth a better place than they found it,” said Assistant Principal Ryan Huppert.
Students also are learning to be good neighbors, offering coupons to nearby residents to rake leaves and do other chores for service hours, added Principal Greg Ramey.
A new gym, robotics room and environmental labs also are part of the renovated school, enhancing a program that has made district-leading gains in academic growth and reduced absenteeism, Ramey said.
“You can’t not feel lucky, cherished and loved when you know taxpayers voted to have this,” said parent Nancy Haynes of the bond approval, which funded renovations to many Grand Rapids Public Schools.
Sophomore Micah Garmon, a C.A. Frost student since fifth grade, gave two thumbs up to the new building and its amenities outside, adding, “I really like that outdoor classroom.”
Captain of the school robotics team, he has his eye on science, engineering and the Navy in the long run – and lots of learning in his new school for now.
“I think going to C.A. Frost will give me a lot of opportunities to go to different colleges,” Micha said. “That will help me get many careers in the future.”