WORDS FROM THE SUP’T: Student collaboration leads to learning connections

Last week, I was fortunate to enjoy an unseasonably warm and sunny afternoon outdoors with some of our amazing teachers and students. If you have lived in Clarkston for some time, you know outdoor learning happens on our school campuses everyday. Even from my window at the Board Office, I can often see our youngest students embarking on their weekly walk to the Clarkston Independence District Library or sharing a picnic on the lawn. When we open our doors to learning experiences outside the classroom, something incredible happens: spirits are lifted, discoveries are made, and real-world connections take shape.
Most recently, these connections were made when Renaissance High School students, teachers and administrators came together to celebrate the completion of an outdoor learning lab for our kids and our community. Under the guidance of their science, math, and art teachers, RHS students planned all aspects of the year-long, cross-curricular effort to clear the trail between the Board Office and the library, and create a truly unique outdoor biodiversity learning lab.
Beginning last fall, RHS students went to work (many on their own time), removing 4,000 pounds of yard waste and debris to expand hiking and gathering areas. In their ecology class, they learned about invasive species, and then diligently removed them from the area. They identified trees, and created informational plaques, along with handmade tin leaf rubbing stations. With advice and generous donations from Ace Hardware on Dixie Highway, students learned how to build birdhouses for native birds. They researched the birds’ natural predators, and built “baffles” to keep them out.
In geometry, students figured the calculations necessary for building wooden frames for the paintings they had created in art. These beautiful pieces were installed along the trail for all to admire, whether taking a walk, or resting under a 300-year-old oak tree in the newly created seating space.
The culmination of all of their hard work was the opening unveiling of the outdoor lab to all of our Young Fives students last week. You should have seen the excitement on the faces of these curious and energetic young learners!
Our RHS students were positioned at stations along the trail with teaching materials they had created to help inspire children to discover the world right outside their door.
At one station, our Young Fives students were given laminated scavenger hunt cards by RHS students, who led them on a journey to spot various plants, animals and colors around them. At another station, the children ate apples while hearing a story about picking apples. Under the oak tree, students young and old worked side-by-side to make colorful tree art “cookie” nametags to hang around their necks. I am the proud recipient of one such nametag, crafted for me by RHS student Jordan Stepp.
Jordan said he wanted to build an appreciation for nature in our children, and give them a place to not only learn with their classmates, but return to again and again. In an interview with Independence Television, Jordan said, “We all came together as one big family in Clarkston and did this.”
We did this.
Thanks to the vision of our Renaissance High School students and staff, we now have an outdoor learning lab, support from ACE Hardware, Home Depot, the DNR, Bordines, the Clarkston Farm and Garden Club, and other community partners, our students can visit for from season to season, for years to come. Our community now has a tranquil, and well-maintained wooded path to appreciate Clarkston’s natural beauty.
Learning opportunities surround us. Our students need only open their eyes to possibilities and imagine what can be to make their dreams come true. In Clarkston, students are known, nurtured, and supported every step of the way.
Watch a video about the making of the outdoor learning lab on the new Renaissance High School website at https://rhs.clarkston.k12.mi.us/.
Dr. Rod Rock is superintendent of Clarkston Community Schools

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