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On the (spooky) trail of learning

School nature trail turned into maze of seasonal art

Sparta — Appleview Elementary’s nature trail was built and improved by students, and this fall those same students were treated to a unique lesson utilizing the trail.

Retired teacher Sue Blackall, who has organized a number of student projects involving the 2.5-acre wooded area for enhanced outdoor learning, this time used the autumn “spooky season” as a reason to get Sparta students outside.

“I thought that having high school art (in the outdoor space) would be engaging for classes and make this a cross-curricular activity,” said Blackall.

High school art teacher Don Crawford walked the trails with Blackall and agreed it would be a great project for the students. His art students then went to work making a variety of paintings that represented the Halloween season for them. Their paintings included characters from well-known scary movies or books, as well as creatures such as wolves, bats and spiders.

Approximately a week later, the high school art projects were hung from trees and attached to bushes, along with the usual trail marker signs. They also set up a maze through the row of red pine trees, with clues about the path of sun’s energy and how it passes through a food web at every turn. 

Entering the “spooky forest,” the excited students from Appleview squealed with delight as they turned corners on the trail. 

“Hey look, I found Charlie Brown’s ghost,” yelled one student. 

“Is this Coraline (a character from the book by Neil Gaiman)?” asked another. 

Over the years, Appleview’s third- through fifth-grade students have worked with Blackall to help clear Japanese honeysuckle, plant native bushes and place wood chips along the paths. 

“I wanted them to see the benefits of their work,” Blackall said. “Some of the older students (fifth-graders) commented on how much they appreciated the art.”

Ridgeview Elementary students also got to take a similar trip through the spooky forest. A separate maze for the younger students told the story of how a butterfly finds a suitable habitat for its home.

This field trip, complete with Halloween treats, was paid for by the Sparta Education Foundation.

Explore more unique video stories of students learning, interesting school programs and educators working to help all children succeed.

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Janice Holst
Janice Holst is a reporter covering Kent City and Sparta. She has been both a teacher and a journalist. A former MLive reporter, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and enjoys spending some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts. Read Janice's full bio

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