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This trail leads to kindness

Lowell — A lesson on trail etiquette and famous painters of rocks has turned into a way for Cherry Creek Elementary students to spread joy and encouragement throughout their community.

As part of their orienteering unit, second- through fifth-graders in teacher Heather Eveland’s physical education classes spent time traversing the nearby Lowell Area Trailway that winds through Creekside Park and beyond. 

Eveland used the time to teach them basic trail rules such as walking on the right side and passing on the left, petting dogs only when invited, not talking to strangers, keeping trails clean and staying with your group instead of going off alone.

“I thought it would be nice to get out in a place where we can spread out, especially now with the (COVID-19) restrictions when they’re mostly in the classroom all day long and not being able to get up and move as often,” said Eveland. “Plus, it teaches kids to appreciate nature and being outside.”

She was also inspired by a local artist who paints rocks with inspiring messages and places them around the community for people to find. 

“Over the summer I saw that my kids would really want to go out on the trail to look for these rocks, and I thought, what if we did this in school? That’s a good social distancing activity,” said Eveland. “And I thought it would also be good to teach how important it is to try to spread joy.” 

Third-grader Tessa Siglar shows off the rock she painted to spread joy around Lowell (courtesy)

Take a Rock, Leave a Rock

There are now more than 300 student-painted rocks hidden along the trailway near the school, as all of Eveland’s students have gone through her orienteering lesson. As they walked along the trail to choose their rocks, the students spent time listening to nature, talking about what they heard and discussing what they could paint on the rock they chose.

“The kids were so excited about the project, about finding a spot to put their rock that would bring someone the most joy, just the whole thing,” she said. “Some wanted to take theirs home, but we talked about how there might be people out on the trail who need that bit of kindness, and that we were doing it for them. 

“Since we hid them I’ve seen tons of feedback on Facebook from people excited about finding the rocks, and that was so nice that they took time to appreciate it and the kids are being recognized.”

Fourth-grader Jackson Vertrate shows off the rock he painted (courtesy)

Collaboration, Imagination

Eveland partnered with art teacher Christy Spaulding on the project, and Spaulding also used her class time to teach them about famous rock painters throughout history.

While she hasn’t partnered with art classes before, collaboration between teachers has always been important to Eveland. This year, with the additional challenges of virus-related restrictions, she said physical education teachers throughout the district have come together to share their ideas and creative ways of modifying lessons to adhere to safety guidelines. 

For her part, Eveland says she’s always enjoyed thinking outside the box. Some of the more creative activities she’s already come up with for her PE students this fall include bowling with pumpkins, step aerobics and playing tag with pool noodles (to stay six feet apart). She said the more unique activities often lead to the best rewards, as with the rock project.

“I heard from some parents that their kids were just so excited to tell them all about their rocks and how they want to come out and take the family on a hike,” she said. “I love that (the lesson) went from school, to the community, to home, to get people moving and outside as much as we can before we might get shut down again. As long as we’re here together, I’m going to take advantage of that.”

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Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell is a reporter and copy editor, covering Cedar Springs, Godfrey-Lee, Grandville and Lowell. She is an award-winning journalist who got her start as the education reporter for the Grand Haven Tribune. A Calvin University graduate, she later returned to her alma mater to help manage its national writing festival and edit and write for enrollment communications. Beth has also written for The Grand Rapids Press, Fox 17 and several West Michigan businesses and nonprofits. She is fascinated by the nuances of language, loves to travel and has strong feelings about the Oxford comma. Read Beth's full bio

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