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River Crest's Discovery Trail is something everyone can enjoy

From the left are Lily Trainer, Gabby Myers, Ezekiel Myers, Erik Small and Chase Kloster. They worked on a service learning project all year. The results include in the foreground, laminated Discovery Trail Guides, a check-out sheet for teachers and the 106 page Discovery Trail Study Guide which is filled with age appropriate activities for all students at River Crest Elementary. Photo by Margaret Ontl

Five students at River Crest Elementary School set out to make a difference in the fall of 2011.

All of the students were in fifth grade; a couple of them had been involved with Destination Imagination.

"The students wanted to do something different," said Betsy May, Gifted and Talented teacher at River Crest. "They wanted it to be a service learning project, something that would benefit the school and the students." May suggested they consider doing something in regard to the Discovery Trail, an almost mile loop that is on the school grounds. The students also sought out suggestions from fellow students and other staff members.

"They really jumped on the idea of working with the trail," said May.

"Last year we did DI and we wanted to grow and work on a service project so we asked the school if we could do something different," said Zeke Myers. "We chose to do the trail and it led into all the other things we did."

Beginning in the fall the small group of students met every Wednesday morning from 7:30 a.m. to 8:50 a.m. and they continue to do so.

It started with a walk on the trail, taking photos of nearly everything. Then they started to do research.

"I liked making the activities and seeing how they all worked into the study guide," said Zeke Myers. "I also liked the research."

Over the course of the year the students created a 106 page study guide for teachers. It consists of 11 chapters including compost, trees, buckthorn, prairie, water, animal homes, fungi, insects, wild flowers, grasses and activities.

"Identifying the flowers and working on the activities and deciding on which categories we could include in the study guide were my favorite part," said Gabby Myers. "I helped research and write the captions for the trail guide also."

The students discovered that finding the information on the Internet was only the first step. According the May they learned to pare down the information and the made it really kid friendly.

"I really liked finding the information and cutting down to something that people would like to read," said Chase Kloster. "I kind of liked everything except getting up early." Generally research is not an activity fifth-grade students do a lot of. It is great preparation for middle school.

"I really like being able to do the research and learning to work the computer," said Lily Trainer. The activities include making a bark rubbing, a leaf skeleton, how preserve a wild flower, find hidden seeds and how to make a recycled shoe flower pot.

Along with the study guide, the team of fifth-graders also created a laminated trail guide which will be available at the kiosk at the trailhead. They carefully identified 20 unique features and species along the trail.

"Basically I like taking the pictures and making the signs and also helping decide what the sections of the study guide would be," said Erik Small, who along with the rest of his team made the markers on the trail which were mostly destroyed by a mower. Making wooden markers is the newest project for team members.

"They issued a challenge to the students who are still here to continue the project, to improve and add to it," said Chase's mother Monique Hall. "The trail changes throughout the year so this presents many opportunities."

"In the spring and in the fall the area changes from flowers to seed heads they could do a seasonal project," said Deb Small, Erik's mom, who hopes that the students take up the project next year.

May, along with other teachers assisted with editing and proofing the study and trail guides. Presently there are two study guides available in the school media center. They hope of have one available for each grade level.

Not only does this service project help the students and teachers at River Crest Elementary, it can be enjoyed by anyone who walks the Discovery Trail.