Outdoor classrooms

MARQUETTE – Most everyone can remember those dreaded last few days of school, when it seemed teachers and students alike were wondering why they were still sitting in a classroom when the sun was shining so brightly outside.

But students and staff at North Star Academy are removing that end-of-the-school-year apathy with a final week called ‘project term.’

Running from June 2 until this coming Wednesday for middle and high school students, project term consists of participating in one of several project options, allowing students to spend their final school days learning practical skills like how to fly an airplane, how to prepare school meals approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or one of a number of other activities.

For elementary students, the project term began Friday.

North Star CEO Karen Anderson said the term, a North Star tradition at least a decade in the making, may not have been started to rid the school of the end-of-the-year blues, but “it certainly has alleviated it.”

“It is high energy and very enthusiastic and very positive right up until that last minute,” Anderson said.

She said the term gives students a chance to learn a new skill.

“The teachers prepare these curriculums to go with each of these projects,” Anderson said. “Cooking, sports types of activities, everything has an educational aspect to it as well. They’re highly enthusiastic right until that last minute of school.”

And in some cases – like in the project term led by middle school teacher Michele Talsma – these project terms can help prepare students for next school year.

Talsma is a teacher in the middle school’s Community Environmental Education Program. Her project is centered around outdoor activities, with students constructing an outdoor rain garden that will grow native species. They’re also learning how to fly fish, use a GPS and shoot a bow and arrow.

“They’re learning skills right now that they’re going to be able to apply next year,” Talsma said, as students in the CEEP program next year will work on native species and environmental restoration projects.

Students signed up for Talsma’s term will also learn about several nonprofit and governmental agencies as they partner with the Hiawatha National Forest, Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, Northern Michigan University and Trout Unlimited to complete projects and learn specific skill sets.

Talsma said she designed the project term to offer students an opportunity to try something they may not otherwise have been able to do and to introduce them to life-long activities.

“It’s something they can take with them and they’ll grow with it over time,” Talsma said.

On Thursday, Talsma’s students began working on what will be a two-year project to construct a fully-functioning rain garden and native species area on North Star’s campus, a project Talsma has been hoping to do for some time.

She said partnering with the agencies listed above and seeing the work they have done in the way of native species restoration inspired her to do something about a serious erosion problem on the school’s campus.

“Watching all of their work and all of their developments and all of their contributions to the environment inspired me to do my native species garden,” Talsma said.

Seventh-grade students Paige Dunlap and Addison Cook said they signed up for Talsma’s project term because they enjoy being outside and were interested in helping with the rain garden.

“I don’t usually get to do labor a lot,” Cook said. “I like getting some work done.”

Students involved in the aviation project term, conducted in partnership with Chapter 850 of the Experimental Aircraft Association, expressed similar reasons for signing up, saying they thought it was a great opportunity to learn something they may never have otherwise.

“I thought it would be cool to fly a plane before (driving) a car,” said Vauda Grizzel, an eighth-grader.

Taught by either full-time college aviation faculty or experienced pilots, the aviation project term had students learn about airplane maintenance as well as how to properly prepare and file a flight plan and even gave them the chance to fly in a small plane to Munising and back from the Boreal Aviation Terminal in K.I. Sawyer on Friday.

Roger Bentlage, an EAA member, volunteered his time along with fellow EAA members to fly with the kids. He said he saw the project as an opportunity to help mold future pilots.

“If we get them interested in it now, then with luck, some of them will become general aviation or military or commercial pilots somewhere down the road,” Bentlage said.

He said flying with the students was a great way to give them a hands-on experience. After spending two days learning the mechanics of flying, the students got a chance to take the controls as they made the return trip from Munising. One student took right to it, Bentlage said.

“He was rock solid,” Bentlage said. “He’d never been in the airplane before, period. So it was kind of fun. Now all he’s saying is ‘I’m going to be a pilot, I’m going to be a pilot.'”

Brianna Wandahsega said she was nervous at first as the plane left the runway Friday, but soon she was too busy learning the controls to be nervous.

“I thought it was pretty cool,” she said.

Students were also given a tour of Sawyer International Airport, including getting a chance to head up into the control tower, and visited the aviation facilities at NMU.

As an added bonus, some students on the ground at the Boreal terminal got a special surprise when a Navy T45 landed there. Flown by Navy Lt. Luke Rice and Navy LT. JG Ryan Furtnur on a training exercise, the pair brought a couple of students out to the plane, showing them how it worked and giving them a first-hand view of the cockpit.

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is jstark@miningjournal.net.