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Apple a day & making time for play

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 High School students and staff climbed aboard the wagon for the tractor ride to the corn maze at Ed Dunneback & Girls Farm

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.”

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter, covering Caledonia, Kenowa Hills, Godfrey-Lee, Grand Rapids and is a roving reporter for GRCC, Wyoming, Kentwood and Byron Center. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News - covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry.  Following a stint as a copywriter for a Grand Rapids area PR firm, she transitioned from communications to freelance writing and reporting for SNN. Read Alexis' full bio

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