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Geography Made Personal

Students’ Experiences Mark Michigan Maps


For many, Glen Arbor is home to Sleeping Bear Dunes and family vacations. But Joe Hunter knows the Northern Michigan town as the place where the blackout happened.

“We were in Cherry Republic and all the lights went out,” recalled the Lakeside Elementary third-grader. “There was a storm, and trees were snapping, blocking the road. We didn’t have water when we got back because the pump was electric.”

Joe’s classmate, Kylie Hampton, knows Muskegon foremost as the host city of her first Irish dancing competition.

“That was the first competition I’d ever done,” Kylie said. “I actually just thought about taking a break from Irish dance for a while and doing gymnastics.”

Both students came up with symbols to illustrate those experiences when drawing their own maps of the state: in Joe’s case, for Glen Arbor, a black squiggle; and in Kylie’s, a dance shoe to mark Muskegon.

Making geography personal was teacher Scott Mitton’s goal with the map project.

“In talking with the kids throughout the year, many of them had no idea where places in Michigan actually were,” Mitton said. “They could point out the main spots: Grand Rapids, Detroit. … But what was really eye-opening was that they had a tough time pointing out places that were important to them, like Grandma’s house, where their cottage was, where they go to camp or where a friend moved.”

The key from Kylie Hampton’s map includes Muskegon, which she knows from where her first Irish dance competition was held

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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