Partnership lets Grand Haven students take watershed lessons into the field

A unique partnership is giving Grand Haven area elementary students an opportunity to take their education about the environment out to the field. 

The project began when students from Ferry Elementary, The Voyager School, and Peach Plains Elementary asked this question: “How can we protect our watershed?” That led to them visiting Pottawatomie Park and East End Park and meeting with field experts to learn more about the watershed before beginning their investigation.

A Peach Plains fourth grader checks out water bugs during his class’ Groundswell Stewardship Project to help protect the Grand River watershed.
The program is part of a partnership between Grand Haven Area Public Schools (GHAPS) and Grand Valley State University’s Groundswell program to help protect the Grand River watershed. The partnership supports Groundswell’s Stewardship Project, which encourages learning outside the classroom and engages students in community-based learning to protect the Grand River and the Great Lakes.

Peach Plains fourth graders play Watershed Jeopardy during their Groundswell Stewardship Project to help protect the Grand River watershed.

“We love hands-on learning opportunities that get our students out of the classroom,” says Andrew Ratke, a GHAPS STEM teacher. “This stewardship project educated students and raised awareness of the importance of the local watershed by allowing them to explore areas in each school’s own backyard.”

Curiosity and exploration

Students worked individually or with partners and explored topics ranging from invasive vs. native species, changes in water levels and temperature, pollution affecting plants and animals, and impacts on the local reptile and amphibian populations. The project is designed to foster ownership of learning through curiosity and exploration. Teachers facilitate and provide background and focus, while the students actively ask questions and seek answers through their investigation.

Peach Plains fourth graders learn about the local waste water treatment plant during the beginning stages of their Groundswell Stewardship Project.

The students’ final findings were presented to their fellow classmates and at the virtual Groundswell Showcase evening. Project-based learning programs like the Groundswell Stewardship Project are consistent with the district’s Homegrown program, which encourages design thinking by pairing students with local businesses and organizations to solve real-life challenges related to their line of business. 

“Any time students can get outdoors and learn from nature, it’s an opportunity to teach them a lifelong love and respect of our natural resources. They start to understand why it’s so important to protect and conserve what we have,” says Missy Mayer, a fourth-grade teacher at Peach Plains. “Our hope is to instill empathy for our environment and empower the students to teach others to take care of the Earth, too.”


Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.