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They wrote the book on world travel

Geography, research & writing skills honed through collaboration

Cedar Springs — The world is so much bigger than Cedar Springs. Want proof? Just ask one of the fifth-graders in Amilija Petrulis’ class. 

Take Trenton McMahon, for example. He can tell you all about the history and ornate interior of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland: “I was just shocked at how the history of the place started. And when I learned what it looked like from the inside, it was amazing, because you don’t usually see that stuff except when you’re looking at pictures or actually going there.”

Or chat with Raine Bleeker, who can plan a foodie-themed day trip for you in Hallstatt, Austria: “There are historic salt mines and you can tour through them, which is cool. So (the town) is known for salt, but also really good food, like the dumpling called knödel, and they have this chocolate cake that’s supposed to be really good, too.” 

Fifth-grader Olivia Barger presents her essay during the class book party (courtesy)

This year Trenton, Raine and their classmates at Cedar View Elementary collaborated on a big project by researching, illustrating and writing about a place each of them wanted to visit someday. The end result? An official, published book called “A Place I Want to Travel to Is…”

Professionally bound and with a cover hand-drawn by Raine, each page of the book features, in the student’s own handwriting, an essay about where to go, what to see and interesting facts about their chosen location. The locales vary widely, from Dubai to Portugal to their teacher’s pick, Thailand. 

“I’ve traveled a lot, and I love telling (my students) about my travels and what I see — I’ll make slideshows for them and they have always been really interested in learning about the world,” said Petrulis, who taught the group of students for both fourth and fifth grade. “I felt like this project taught them that the world is actually way bigger than we think; like, you can’t just fly to Africa in a couple hours. 

“I feel like when they’re younger, geography-wise, it’s hard to think of what places are like outside of Cedar Springs. So I always say, ‘Dream as far as you can.’ If you want to go to Kenya, you’re going to go to Kenya. I know you can make it happen.”

After choosing their dream destination, each student researched the city or country including its flag, currency, how the government is structured, geography and history information, what the population is and other data points. Then they dove into the fun stuff: What is there to see and do as a visitor? What sort of weather could you expect, or where’s the best place to eat? 

Finally, they wove everything they’d learned into a travel essay, editing and revising it several times with their teacher before painstakingly writing out the final version in their best handwriting. 

“The best part for me was them coming up to me with something they discovered as they’re researching, like, ‘Oh my gosh, did you know you can do this here?’” Petrulis said. “It was cool to see their eyes light up about all these different places. Even if they never get there, it did kind of feel like they traveled there because they did so much research.” 

Teacher Amilija Petrulis and students Raine Bleeker, left, and Trenton McMahon look through a copy of their book

Dedicated to Our World

Trenton chose Dublin, Ireland, because part of his family’s heritage is Irish and he had heard about some famous landmarks from his grandpa. His essay and accompanying drawing include tidbits about St. Patrick, the Irish Setter (a breed of dog native to Ireland), the history of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and what to do in Dublin. 

“I love learning about countries — it’s neat to me how I can learn about something that’s outside of our nation. I just enjoyed (the project) a lot,” Trenton said. “I felt like (studying) Ireland would probably mean something better to me because it’s always stuck out how I hear about it in my family. … It’s not every day that you see, like, your history.” 

Raine, whose parents are from the Netherlands, chose Austria because of its proximity to the Dutch country with which she was already familiar. She  narrowed it to Hallstatt after being entranced by photos of the picturesque mountainside town. 

“It just looked like a really pretty place, with all the mountainsides and a lot of flowers, and the houses looked cool, too,” she said. “I learned that you can go hiking in the mountains, and visit the historic salt mines, and go swimming in the lake, and it was just really cool to learn about everything to do there.” 

Inside the book’s front cover, there is a dedication page, with an inscription voted on by the class. It reads: “Dedicated to our world.” 

Both Trenton and Raine said they’re similarly dedicated to one day visiting their chosen destinations. 

“Ever since we made this book, I’ve been wanting to go over the ocean, over there to Europe and everything,” Raine said. “I’m hoping that can be in a couple years, or maybe 10 or 20.”

Trenton, while enthusiastic, was slightly more pragmatic: “I can’t let you know when it’s going to happen, because I can’t predict the future, but definitely someday when I’m older. Like, probably when I have a passport.” 

“A Place I Want to Travel to Is…” is available for purchase through Studentreasures Publishing, using PIN number 8192405.

Students in Amilija Petrulis’ class each contributed an essay and illustrations to the book (courtesy)

Read more from Cedar Springs:
A new tradition: singing ‘together, side by side’
A dose of reality

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Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell is associate editor, reporter and copy editor. She is an award-winning journalist who got her professional start as the education reporter for the Grand Haven Tribune. A Calvin University graduate and proud former Chimes editor, she later returned to Calvin to help manage its national writing festival. Beth has also written for The Grand Rapids Press 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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