Blaze Their Own Trail

Students are thriving at West Michigan Academy of Environmental Science through service learning. For the past nine years, WMAES students have been going on a week-long, environmentally-focused service learning trip. They have assisted with trail restoration and building, oyster restoration, community gardens and coastline preservation.

This year, 18 students from the 11th and 12th grade went on a week-long trip to Tennessee (near Gatlinburg). While there, they partnered with the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont who had just recently purchased 150 acres of property.

The students then spent three days restoring and opening up trails that had not been used in over a decade. These trails will allow people to hike on the property and have overnight camping trips.

This experience offers many rewards even before the students actually embark on the trip. For example, students learn about application processes since they have to apply and go through an interview process with staff chaperones to be selected to attend the trip.

Teachers and staff want the students to understand the importance of earning the privilege to go on such a trip. Going on a week-long trip also costs money and the students need to be committed to raising funding. Each student is personally responsible for raising $300. They begin fundraising in September with a letter campaign looking for sponsors. They also sell candy bars throughout the school year and have group fundraisers such as Penny Wars, Dollar Days, after-school game night, etc. This year, the students raised nearly $12,000.

This year, it was hot during the week the students were in Tennesse working on the trails. While in 90 degree weather they carried tools up to the mountains so that they could clear out the trails and rebuild the paths for hiking. This took grit and determination. Students learned valuable lessons like perseverance and hard work.

“When we first got there you couldn’t see the beginning of the trail. By the end of our time there, you could see the trail! This was such a great feeling of accomplishment,” Corbin Ebeling, senior at WMAES, commented.

“I loved the friendships that were made and that we all got to be together a lot! It was awesome site-seeing, too. I just loved it and hope I get to go again next year,” Hayden Tarbell, 11th grader at WMAES, exclaimed.

“This trip is the highlight of my year. It is so much fun to work with these students. They pour everything into this trip, from the application process to fundraising to the actual physical work. It is awesome to watch them grow as a team,” Josh Miller, secondary dean of students and head chaperone, shared.

WMAES is thriving with its environmental focus and this service learning is just an example of the excellence that permeates from its students.

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