Scotch Students Learn About Plants, Keep Trail Clean

Lauren Piontkowski leads fourth-graders in 'building a legacy' maintaining West Bloomfield Trail.

What's the best way for families in to learn about the world — specifically, the local areas in which they live, work, and play every day?

fourth-grade teacher Lauren Piontkowski says it'd be easy to take a field trip when book studies are complete, but that it's an added expense to parents who in many cases already pay for extracurricular activities and day care.

For the past five years, Piontkowski said, she's tried to help solve the dilemma by simply bringing the kids directly to the to help clean up. Thanks in part to a partnership she's cultivated with , her students learn about invasive plant species to the area and they have a great time doing it.

"There are so many amazing educational opportunities which we have here in the area, but it can get very expensive and time-consuming to organize a group and to fund-raise for that kind of activity," said Piontkowski. "I think that this makes a win-win for everyone that we tie-in well to curriculum."

Collaboration works

Piontkowski, a 22-year teacher in the district, said that five years ago, she and other teachers had been asked by school administration to help implement a community service project which could tie into curriculum. She continued that as fourth-grade science curriculum revolves around the environment and the effect that pollution can have on it, "the wheels began turning."

An active runner who frequents the local trails, Piontkowski said that she thought to contact Parks and Recreation naturalist Laurel Zoet after reflecting on the garbage that she could easily see during her runs. 

"The wheels began turning, and that's when it hit me — what if we could do something that would leave a legacy," said Piontkowski, of Sylvan Lake. "It's about restoring the land and becoming part of something bigger than yourself and the kids just eat it up."

Every year around the beginning of spring, Piontkowski said, she makes contact with Zoet in order to set aside several hourlong sessions during school hours for the classes to meet her at different areas of the trail. This year, she said, Zoet led six classes, instructing on how to identify invasive plant species common to the area, as well as other areas of science study including local ecosystems and the food chain.

"I admire her stick-to-it-iveness because it is not easy to maintain this project and coordinate and set aside time outside of school each year," said Zoet, adding that the Scotch children are the only "regular" organized volunteers who help clean up West Bloomfield's parks.

"It’s not an easy task with such full and ever-demanding curriculum requirements to coordinate that time outside of school, but she makes it happen every year."

Kids love it

It's the highlight of the year for the fourth-graders, said Piontkowski, who compete to see who can remove the most garbage from the trail. Zoet said that each class ends with a bit of spectacle as individual garbage bags are weighed and students compare the amount that they were able to collect.

However, the lessons stay with students even after the spectacle is over. Piontkowski said that on the way back to school during a recent class, students identified the invasive plant species garlic mustard in the Scotch school yard and worked to remove it. Zoet said that she had heard of a student contacting her condominium association in order to remove garlic mustard from her neighbors' lawns.

"It's great to see students excited, and it's really great to see parents who are excited," Piontkowski said. "They love hearing about what their kids learned in school that day and they support the project."

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