Below is an excerpt of the 2020 WSCS auction speech delivered by Janet Staal, Director of Nature-based/Outdoor Education, and Katelyn Egnatuk, Nature Preschool teacher
As God gathered a group of people to start this school He strategically planted West Side Christian School in the city of Grand Rapids. It’s awesome to see that He has a special plan for the school’s campus. Look around the school’s location and it has a diverse setting.
Look and see a forest, swamp, garden, mini meadow, and a learning landscape that was ripe for playscapes which it has. All of this natural beauty is found within the city of Grand Rapids.
God revealed how WSCS could respond to the changing childhood landscape because it is changing. Think quick, what’s a favorite childhood memory that you have? I am guessing the majority of you had an outdoor memory come to mind, such as building forts, playing in the yard, wading through a stream, and climbing trees. Yet, if you look around at our nearby neighborhoods, the days of where kids spend hours outside have been mostly replaced by video games, television watching, and organized activities such as sports and clubs. We have traded green time for screen time — and it has had an impact on kids’ well-being and development.
Knowing these statistics and all the researched benefits, as we’ve seen through our school’s history, for such a time as this, God used a group of people, including teachers, staff, administration, school board, and a handful of parents and community members to help turn a vision into a growing reality. God’s plan for outdoor education began to unfold. In 2006 when the middle school science teacher, Brian Dyk, suddenly passed away, the school community came together to add nature trails in his honor. After several years of having those trails and nearby landscape underutilized, WSCS looked to a local community partner and neighbor, Blandford Nature Center, to gain support for an outdoor education initiative. The beauty of this partnership was that now WSCS had access to resources from a place that has been leading outdoor learning experiences through field trips for now 50 years.
As WSCS began experiencing more of the benefits that came from taking learning outdoors, the time came to take it deeper with the creation of a nature-based preschool. At that time there were only four nature preschools state-wide, now there are around twenty! As the years progressed we added on a forest kindergarten component too.
God’s plan unfolded and grew. Kids today experience His glory first- hand as they make the natural connection to the glorious world He created.
We can’t help but thank God that He has this vision for WSCS and that we all can be a part of it. God shines his glory through these powerful learning moments. This school is helping to raise up a new generation of students that know and love God and the world that He made.
Stay tuned for more to the story. It’s easy to picture what learning looked like when we were kids, we’re going to give you a peek at how outdoor education plays a role in educating WSCS students today, what parents and students have to say, and developing hoop house news. In addition, we’ll be sharing how God is using WSCS to impact outdoor education happening through other West Michigan schools.
Read more: Growing Hearts & Minds in the School Garden