GR kids visiting Lake Michigan, many for first time

Grand Rapids Public Schools fifth-grader: 'It looks like water is just like the sky.'

Lake Michigan, Grand Rapids Public Schools
Fifth-graders from Grand Rapids visit Lake Michigan, many for the first time. (May 4, 2017)


GRAND HAVEN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids Public Schools is bringing all of its fifth-graders to the shores of Lake Michigan. For many, it’s the first time seeing the big lake.

One group from Campus Elementary School on Grand Rapids’ Southeast Side visited the lakeshore south of Grand Haven on Thursday. Once their fear of sharks was alleviated, they were into the water, shrieking at the cold temperatures but obviously excited.

“It’s really nice and this is my first time to a beach,” one of the students said.

GRPS spokesman John Helmholt said as many as 85 percent of the district’s fifth-graders have never dipped a toe in Lake Michigan. That changed this year, thanks in large part to a partnership with West Side-based Open Systems Technologies.

The company is providing field trips to either Rosy Mound Natural Area and Beach south of Grand Haven or P.J. Hoffmaster State Park near Muskegon for all 1,200 fifth-grade students. The trips started in the fall, bringing one busload of kids at a time to the water.

Thursday, the water near Rosy Mounds was bone-chilling — below 50 degrees — but that didn’t stop the kids from running in. Many were looking at a soggy trip home.

“Look at them. They’re loving it,” Renee Lance, their teacher, said.

The group of 17 of her students got more than just a trip to the beach. They also hiked about three quarters of a mile through the nature area as an Ottawa County Parks field guide told them about the forests, nature and dunes that mark the uniquely Michigan experience.

Lance said her students live in the inner city and have not been able to get to a place that, though it seems close to many, is out of reach of some families.

“A lot of our parents don’t necessarily have reliable transportation, or families are large and don’t necessarily large or have a vehicle gig enough — and there’s usually cost involved,” Lance said.

“I think it’s cool how like the sand is kind of black and silver,” one student observed. “I thought it was going to be very, very big and right now it looks like water is just like the sky.”

Beyond a fun field trip, educators in Grand Rapids believe that seeing the lake helps the students understand the need to preserve a vital natural resource.

“They’ve seen a map, we do things on a map, but that’s a piece of paper,” Lance said. “This is real. This is real life.”

School officials say the expeditions have worked out very well and they will continue in the future.