story and photos by Doug McClure
HARDWICK – As the 2020-2021 school year opened, Hazen Union launched a series of projects to better serve students who did not respond well to traditional rote classroom-based learning. Among the more ambitious of those was Dare to be Me (DTBM) a nature-based program focused on students getting exercise and learning introspection and self-awareness.
World Languages and Martial Arts teacher Anja Pfeffer and Hazen Union Makerspace coordinator Hilary Maynard co-taught the program.
In DTBM’s waning weeks, the two groups of students in that class worked to improve an under-utilized trail on the Hardwick Trails with a StoryWalk, intended as an educational tool for Hardwick’s youngest citizens. The project combined the efforts of the class, members of the Hardwick Trails Committee, Jeudevine Youth Librarian Diane Grenkow, and Hazen Union woodshop teacher Jim Raas.
DTBM has used the Hardwick Trails for all its sessions, with students journaling and discussing their thoughts. Ron Wiesen of the Hardwick Trails Committee said, “Anja’s class was looking for something to do on the trails. [The students] use the trails a lot and they talked to her about that, and [the idea] came to the trails [committee] from Anja.”
At the same time, Grenkow had been mulling over a StoryWalk for the children that would be more permanent than her previous ones. “Pieces just really fell together,” Wiesen said. “It’s an interesting thing about a small community. You only have small organizations or individuals, but when they can put things together, really unique things can happen.”
Raas said he had been in the OSSU and at Hazen Union since 1986. Wiesen and the Trails Committee bought the materials to make the signs for the StoryWalk. “I had some students cut the 4x4s, the angles as Ron spec’d them. We got some plywood, got it painted, pre-drilled some of the holes.”
The trail hosting the StoryWalk is mainly used only for the annual Pumpkin Walk. Wiesen described it as “our flattest trail.” Student Daniel desGroseilliers said, “It’s not a long walk. It’s going to be good for smaller kids, and that’s kind of the reason we built the trail is to get people outside and walking, enjoying the trails. It’s not a very hard trail to walk on, it’s very flat and fairly even.”
Wiesen described the StoryWalk as “a great idea for the town to be able to bring different groups together.” He said that this project coming to fruition was significant. “When I was on the recreation committee, one of the obvious things was having so many organizations that had something to offer that being able to make connections was the big thing. If you couldn’t make the connections, nothing happened.”
Grenkow said “prior to this, I’ve done StoryWalks on the trails, but they’ve only been up for a day. It wasn’t a permanent situation, so when I heard about this I went to the trails [committee] meeting and asked if we could have something more permanent.” The current story will be up for “a while,” but will eventually be superseded by new stories.
The two groups of students decided to divide the labor into construction of the signs for the StoryWalk and the creation of the art and story. desGroseilliers said that his group, the Tuesday class, did the construction side of the project.
The second group wrote the story which is entitled “Fire Fruit Friends.” Student Megan Cane said half of the class worked on the story, and the other half began working on the accompanying illustrations. Cane said that “I think towards the end, we all started working on the drawings because there was so much to do.” They offered an animated rundown of the storyline.
“The story is about a dinosaur wolf-dog named Carlos, who is way too huge and is part of a normal wolf pack. They kick him out because he’s so huge and he’s messing with their hunting and stuff, he’s just so clumsy, so huge. ‘Large and in charge,’ you know?
“The rest of the story is he’s out in the world now by himself. And because he’s big and dopey, he can’t hunt for himself. So, then he looks up in the tree and sees fruit. He tries to get it himself because he’s huge and he thinks he can do it, but he can’t because it’s way up in the tree. So then comes along a mouse, José. He has a couple of buddies, so he whistles and then comes along a tortoise and a sloth. The sloth’s name is Earl and the turtle’s name is Myrtle. So then with some teamwork, they stack up to get the fruit and they get the fruit and then they have a little picnic, and then it’s the end. And they’re all friends forever.”
The closing sign contains three lessons to take from the story: “You are unique and that is something to celebrate; your differences could actually be your superpowers; friendship is a true gift, appreciate it.”
Cane said of the project, “I like helping out kids, I like making stories for kids. It’s nice to actually do something worthwhile for the little kids and we’re going to read it to them.” desGroseilliers said, “I feel good about it, doing something for the community, helping.”
Raas said, “I think it’s great, the collaboration, the Dare to be Me students getting out there. It gives a nice little walk. [The trails] have always been a great asset, and I think there’s a lot of enthusiasm throughout the community to try and maintain.”
The second and third graders from Hardwick Elementary were the first to tour the new StoryWalk last Friday and this Tuesday. The Friday group was divided into four groups of students. The second group of DTBM students ushered the students through, helping them with unfamiliar words.