Kenowa Hills — Instead of sitting at a desk and taking notes, Pathways High School junior Ellise Eastling spent her Thursday morning sitting on a tractor ride and petting farm animals at Ed Dunneback & Girls Farm.
As she stood by a fence with her arms outstretched into an animal enclosure, a donkey strolled toward Ellise, Evayah Eastling, freshman, and Maxene Payte, junior.
“It’s fun to get out of the classroom,” Ellise said, pointing at the donkey. “This is pretty fun.”
Pathways Principal Jared Herron believes an apple a day and making time for play keeps students engaged in their studies.
“This year, we’re putting an emphasis on addressing the social and emotional needs of our students,” Herron said.
Shortly after arriving, the first group of students and staff members climbed aboard a wagon for the tractor ride to the corn maze. Those who chose to, worked in small groups to get through the maze. Afterward, it was apple cider and fresh donuts for all before returning to school to finish their day.
Pathways teacher Sabrina Ricardo said a highlight of the day was getting to spend time with her students outside of class.
“During these activities we get to have fun and bond with our students and encourage them to build relationships,” Ricardo said, adding that visiting a farm “is also a new experience for a lot of these kids.”
As Caitlin Gunst watched students form teams to play basketball with a nearby wooden hoop, the Grand Valley State University master’s student and Kenowa Hills social work intern was reminded “they’re still just kids.”
“A lot of these students work or play sports after school, so they don’t have a lot of free time to do things like this,” Gunst said. “Going on a hayride or eating donuts and cider is not something all of them have done before.”
Across the playground, students climbed on a stack of large tires, made friends with other farm animals and took the opportunity to use their outside voices while competing to see who could swing their washer on a string and land on the hook first.
“Play is a great activity to help students cope with traumatic experiences,” Herron said. “So after the previous year and a half, we feel these kinds of activities are ideal for students.”