[caption id=”attachment_343” align=”aligncenter” width=”348”] Six groups of Grade 9 geography students from Smithville Christian High School designed three-dimensional models as part of their proposals for a new walking trail in Smithville. Pictured above, left to right: Jake Zantingh, Caleb Buys, Corey Oudman and Andy Jeong.[/caption]
Grade 9 student Andy Jeong says he felt a keen sense that leadership and diligence would be required when he and his peers were invited to design a new walking trail for his town.
He says he and his friends encouraged each other to focus and stay on task as they worked.
“It was exciting working with my friends to affect our community and the environment — and to know (the trail) is actually getting built,” he says.
The whole experience was a lot of fun, Jeong adds.
Last fall Township of West Lincoln planner Rachelle Larocque invited Smithville Christian High School’s Grade 9 geography class to design a 700-metre trail the Town of Smithville is considering building along what’s called 20 Mile Creek. Given a budget of $120,000, the students proposed materials to be used in forming the trail, identified the location of amenities such as benches and garbage cans, and recommended other features to ensure the trail is safe and usable at all times.
Six groups of students each created a proposal, using a geographic information systems (GIS), as well as built a three-dimensional model. Each group also developed a Powerpoint presentation to defend its decision making that was then delivered to a group of experts, including Larocque.
Final decisions on the trail’s location and features are now being made.
“It was cool that they trusted teenagers with this, and that they decided to partner with us,” says student Christine Vermeer, when asked what she found most exciting about this project.
A big challenge was determining the elements needed while staying within budget, Vermeer says. “There was lots of money, but it was quickly used up.”
The project also highlighted for her the importance of planning in advance, she says. As Smithville continues to grow, the town has determined it’s important to develop various trails early on, “so that it’s not a backwards plan, but a forwards plan,” says teacher Gina VandenDool.
VandenDool says she found the project most exciting given the number of connections students made with experts, including urban planners, conservation authorities and GIS professionals.
“I’m just so grateful for the partnerships and for the experts who jumped on board. They never hesitated to spend time with my students,” she says.
The learning opportunity for her students was incredible, VandenDool says. How many students join in planning an urban community, learn the importance of being sensitive to the concerns of a diversity of populations and work with a real budget?
“Ultimately what’s cool down the road, 20 to 30 years, is that these students will come back and can show their friends and their children and say, ‘Look, I was a part of this and I made a positive change in my community,’ ” says VandenDool.
The invitation to work on this project arose from a 2010 Grade 10 civics class study, petition and presentation to township council, calling for a more walkable community and safer pedestrian routes. The civics presentation led to a successful joint grant application from the township and the school, and a new project for the 2011 Grade 9 geography class: to survey 800 Smithville students in Grades 6 – 12 about their experiences with the safety and efficiency of the town’s walking facilities.
As a result of that project, a Kitchener Waterloo urban planning company called GSP Group created a design for Smithville facilitating better active transit.
VandenDool notes the students’ commitment and reliable work on the survey, as well as positive relationships formed with the town in the development of that effort, definitely led to the trail design project, which required a partnership with an educational institution according to funding guidelines.
VandenDool’s geography class for this semester has now been invited to undertake another project that involves analyzing the features of two town parks, which were built without trees, in order to understand where native vegetation can be planted.