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Outdoor ‘classroom’ experience equips area teachers with hands-on projects

Taking pictures for ideas

What once was a golf course became a classroom for area teachers the first week of August. The instructors were taking part in Groundswell’s Summer Institute at Blandford Nature Center, which is restoring the former Highlands golf course that abuts it to the property’s natural habitat. The week-long professional development class had participants working in teams to design possible plans for use of the property and get ideas for projects to take back to their classrooms.

This is the ninth year of the Groundswell Summer Institute. The organization is based at Grand Valley State University’s College of Education, and includes 35+ businesses, organizations and environmental groups. Groundswell works with teachers across West Michigan, equipping them to create hands-on environmental learning projects that teach students how to make a difference in their communities.  Groundswell recently won a $25,000 national UL Innovative Education Award advancing environmental education using STEM principles.


Kym Pawelka, the Groundswell project manager

Julie Batty, the land stewardship manager at Blandford, which owns the former golf course on Leonard Street, took the teachers on a tour Thursday of a restored wet meadow at the site, pointing out plants that were native, non-native and giving them ideas for student projects like minimizing invasive plants. Many area classes have already ventured into the Highlands and the center plans to collaborate more with schools on citizen science, research and stewardship projects at the site as restoration continues, she said.

“Blandford Nature Center sees the restoration of the Highlands golf course as an opportunity to create a natural landscape composed of diverse habitat types that is accessible to everyone,” Batty said. A master plan for the Highlands is expected to be ready in the fall, and some of the suggestions from the teachers may be used in it. (For more information, Blandford and the Land Conservancy of West Michigan will hold a community meeting at the 18th green on September 5, starting at 5:30p.m.)

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Linda Odette
Linda Odette
Linda Odette is a freelance writer and editor with more than 30 years of experience in journalism. She’s worked primarily as an editor in feature departments at newspapers in West Michigan, including the Grand Rapids Press, the Muskegon Chronicle and the Holland Sentinel. She lives in East Grand Rapids near the Eastown edge, has a teenage son and a daughter in college. Read Linda's full bio or email Linda.


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