- Sponsorship -

Community partners bring field trips to Burton’s backyard

Outdoor learning events are a hit with middle-schoolers

Sally Triant, environmental education consultant for Grand Rapids Public Schools, helps Burton Middle School students put together a tent during a recent field day at Plaster Creek Family Park

Grand Rapids — Despite the pummeling wind and a chill in the air that was unexpectedly biting for late April, Burton Middle School students had no problem getting fired up about a “field trip” right in the school’s backyard at Plaster Creek Family Park.

During the last of four outdoor field days, the park was filled with community partners — John Ball Zoo, Outdoor Discovery Center and more — bringing the energy and immersion of a field trip to seventh- and eighth-graders, without the hassle of transportation.

Which activity was the crowd favorite?

“The egg drop!” proclaimed seventh-grader Jhostan Betanco, referring to an Outdoor Discovery Center-led lesson which involved building a bird’s nest, plopping an egg inside, and dropping it from atop a ladder to see if it could withstand the fall. 

The point of the exercise was to simulate the care it takes for birds to protect their young in choppy weather, and the students had a blast with it. 

Jhostan got extra satisfaction from the activity because his group was one of the few that managed to get an egg to the ground in one piece.

Their secret, he said, was a strong foundation.

“The base had to be stable, and then we just put moss all over it,” Johstan explained.

Seventh-grader Xaylen Rozeveld also loved the activity, though her group’s egg wasn’t so fortunate.

“I liked the nest-building. That was really fun. I liked looking for the materials,” Xaylen said. “We found sticks, we got moss, grass and leaves and we put it all together.”

‘It’s really prohibitive sometimes to get them on field trips because of the setup of the school day. … That was one of the barriers we’ve been trying to address, to give them outdoor and environmental learning experiences.’

— Sally Triant, GRPS environmental education consultant

Station to Station

At another station, Ruben Canhola, Brandon De La Cruz and Brayden Zukowski worked to assemble and disassemble a camping tent. It wasn’t something they’d ever done before, but they managed to erect and tear down the tent despite the buffeting winds. 

Ruben said the outdoor activity was a welcome break after a long winter spent mostly indoors.

“(I like that) we get to do projects and stuff out here,” he said. “We don’t have to just write on a piece of paper.”

Other activities included native plant identification with Plaster Creek Stewards, fossil lessons with the West Michigan Environmental Action Council, a presentation about turtles with representatives from John Ball Zoo and watershed science discussions with the Lower Grand River Organization of Watersheds.

At the zoo station, Megan Burkhart, assistant manager of school and youth programming at John Ball Zoo, and Travis Kurtz, zoo community science coordinator, talked to students about the importance of turtles, which are an indicator species, signaling environmental quality to other animals.

Megan Burkhart, assistant manager of school and youth programming at John Ball Zoo, center, talks to Burton Middle School students about the importance of turtles

Though it was too chilly to bring live turtles to the park, Burkhart said students were receptive to the lesson. 

“We’re learning a little bit about what we do at the zoo, but also what students can do in their own lives to help conserve turtles,” she said. “The students have been really excited.” 

Breaking Down Barriers

The outdoor lessons are organized by Sally Triant, environmental consultant for Grand Rapids Public Schools, and Burton science teacher Stacey Post. 

Post gave credit to the Burton science team, as well as the school’s administration, stating, “Everybody really worked together to make this happen.” 

Triant said the field days make outdoor work more accessible for middle-school students. 

“Having community partners teach middle-school scholars in their schoolyards and local parks makes this type of learning accessible to everyone and eliminates some of the common barriers caused by transportation and absences incurred in other classes,” Triant said. “This model allows for scholars to learn across content, with hands-on explorations, and from a wide variety of community partners.”

GR Outside helped make it all possible by providing tents for students to work with and winter coats to fight the cold.

The field days are one of many projects GRPS is undertaking to ensure that all students have outdoor learning experiences at least once a year. That can be tricky, especially with students at the middle-school level, Triant said.

“It’s really prohibitive sometimes to get them on field trips because of the setup of the school day,” Triant said. “That was one of the barriers we’ve been trying to address, to give them outdoor and environmental learning experiences.”

Post said the goal is to continue to host some iteration of the outdoor field days in the future, with one taking place during each season.

“We’re hoping to do it three times a year,” she said. “Our goal is to have our scholars outside and learning. We hope to continue that and to continue to help teachers feel more comfortable taking kids outside, and getting our students more comfortable with being outside and learning outside.”

Read more from Grand Rapids: 
Nudging educators into the great outdoors
Making an impact: Tutoring center empowers kids through literacy

- Sponsorship -
Riley Kelley
Riley Kelley
Riley Kelley is a reporter covering Cedar Springs, Grand Rapids, East Grand Rapids and Sparta school districts. An award-winning journalist, Riley spent eight years with the Ludington Daily News, reporting, copy editing, paginating and acting as editor for its weekly entertainment section. He also contributed to LDN’s sister publications, Oceana’s Herald-Journal and the White Lake Beacon. His reporting on issues in education and government has earned accolades from the Michigan Press Association and Michigan Associated Press Media Editors. Riley’s early work in journalism included a stint as an on-air news reporter for WMOM Radio, and work on the editorial staff of various student publications. Riley is a graduate of Grand Valley State University. He originally hails from western Washington.


Related Articles

- Sponsorship -

Issues in Education

Making Headlines

- Sponsorship -


Maranda Where You Live WGVU