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'Journey Toward Stewardship' goes Global

The Antrim Review of Bellaire, Michigan

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School, community benefiting from proceeds of children's hook

ELK RAPIDS — What started out several years ago as an idea for a children's book about native plants has grown far beyond that idea into a project that is now benefiting the entire community of Elk Rapids as well as Mill Creek Elementary.

The idea for the book, entitled "Looking At The Past...Gazing Into The Future... A Journey Toward Stewardship," started during the 2011/2012 school year when Mill Creek teacher Kim Ranger and two other teachers participated in the Grand Traverse Stewardship Initiative through the Grand Traverse Conservation District (GTCD). The GTCD provides resources to support community-focused, place-based learning experiences for teachers and community partners as well as students.

The Grand Traverse initiative was part of a larger initiative sponsored by the Great Lakes Water Studies Institute at Northwestern Michigan College, which had a goal to help teachers launch place-based education in K-12 classrooms as a strategy to inspire lifelong stewardship of freshwater.

Over time, the idea of the book changed from a simple narrative about native plants into a fullblown project and journal about the students' efforts to create and maintain a native plant garden. The book officially got underway in the spring of 2013, when Carrie Saunders's second-grade class created compost for the garden, as well as worm bins, Ranger's third-grade students reflected on and wrote-about their experiences for the narrative portions of the book, and Nikki Wilkins' fourth graders researched the plants and drafted the informational parts of the book.

Local watercolor artist Joanie Braun illustrated the book, and narrative consultant Jenifer Strauss helped to turn the narration into a story that would draw the public's attention and bring the book to life as an attractive tale of how children can help to improve an entire community.

"Although the original goal of the project was just to create a book about native plants, it grew into a much bigger story about the community that continues to grow today," said Ranger, who now serves as the district's International Baccalaureate director.

The project was assisted financially by the Michigan Project Learning Tree and Albert I. Pierce Foundation as well as the Elk Rapids Lions Club, which provided a total of $2,300 in grant funds to help cover the costs of publishing.

Sales of the book took off both locally and online, as did handmade note cards the students created to help with the cost of publishing the book.

Using proceeds from the sale of the $14.95 books, which are also available at Java Jones and Mullaly's Art Gallery in Elk Rapids, as well as at Elk Rapids schools, third graders from Mill Creek recently planted $1,500 of native perennial plants and apple trees as part of a. newly created nectar garden for insects and butterflies, said Ranger.

"It's so exciting to see how far what started as a fairly simple project has come," she said. "With the help of the SEEDS group, and more than $21,000 in grants, a pathway and a platform for water studies has been constructed using wood from invasive black locust trees, and four tables and benches have been added to the area near the outdoor learning pavilion.

"Now we've got more plants and even apple trees that will help to teach the children about where our food comes from. And we've got lots of ideas for the future," said Ranger.

The book continues to garner attention and was recently featured in the monthly publication of Lions Club International, which is printed in several foreign languages and circulated to more than 380,000 people around the world.

On Oct. 21 beginning at 5:30 p.m., Mill Creek Elementary will celebrate its 25th anniversary and the grand opening of the new Community Pathway. A CD is also in the works to commemorate the history of Mill Creek and the school's bright future with more environmental initiatives and process toward becoming an International Baccalaureate World School coming soon.

For more information or to purchase "Looking At The Past... Gazing Into The Future A Journey Toward Stewardship," go to

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Original Publication Date: October 8, 2015

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