Mind, Body, Spirit

Education Within and Without Walls

As an educator, there is a unique, joyous feeling when you see passion ignite in your students that resembles a passion of your own.

At Allegan Alternative High School, we are fortunate to have many of these moments.

Our innovative culture and open-minded student body allow educators to intertwine many defining pieces of their own lives into the classroom curriculum. Our school-wide elective hour, for example, consists of courses created entirely by the staff member teaching it. From photography to cinema, crafts to drama, sports to robotics, our educators are able to turn their personal passions into hands-on classes that speak to the diverse interests in our school.

In the fall trimester, I open my love and passion for our vast, beautiful world to our students through an Outdoor Education elective class.

This class is a means for students to explore the expansive world outside of the classroom. We tour topics such as species identification, national parks, sustainable living, adventure tourism, trip planning, and resource management – but it doesn’t stop there.

For each of the class’ three sections, there is an associated field trip meant to build upon the learning in the classroom. These visits to various nature centers and wildlife preserves allow students to engage in learning both within and without walls, providing them with real world examples and applications of the things they are diving into at school.

This past week, the Outdoor Education class ventured out for their first of these trips, a journey to Mt. Baldhead and Oval Beach to see the coastal dunes of Saugatuck, Michigan. While there, students witnessed the growth of the forest that holds the dunes in place, identified many tree species they’ve been learning about in class, and felt the wind that forms bowl-shaped blowouts in the sand.

“We are actually experiencing what we are learning about,” said one student as he collected a few red maple leaves to join his growing collection.

Though let’s be honest – these trips are about much more than the academic learning. These trips are also about creating opportunities for students to enjoy the outside world, connect with their peers, and most of all, to experience new things.

“It showed me that there were a lot more interesting and beautiful places right here in Michigan than what I thought there was,” exclaimed a student on the ride home.

Many students readily agreed. Their most meaningful memories weren’t created while learning about these things in the classroom. They were created while students climbed the 300+ stairs to the top of the dunes, explored the forested trails leading to the lost city of Singapore, discovered buried signs of poetry in the sand, and jumped fearlessly into the autumn chill of Lake Michigan. These are moments of lifelong learning that will impact these students even after they leave our walls forever.

Watching their growing appreciation for the world around us as we sat on the lakeshore, I was struck with such awe that I am fortunate enough to share my passions with these students; that I have the opportunity to fuel their passions as they find ways to add fire to mine.

The class will take their next trip to Holland’s Outdoor Discovery Center to extend their learning about birds of prey, conservation vs. preservation, and Michigan’s many wetland ecosystems.

Written by Aaron Rogers, Dean of Students

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