Sioux Center Christian School project at Oak Grove

Sioux Center Christian School sixth-graders rake off a path for a bike trail at Oak Grove Park near Hawarden Nov. 9. Students took on the project as part of broader classwork.

SIOUX CENTERSioux Center Christian School sixth-grade students have spent a lot of time at Oak Grove Park near Hawarden, utilizing the park to learn about ecology and as a chance to serve parkgoers.

Here are the students’ own thoughts on their experiences at Oak Grove.

What are some topics that you studied in school that fit into Oak Grove?

Kayci Lodewyk: The majority of the topics that we studied in class that fit with Oak Grove were photosynthesis, tree identification, the life cycle of a tree and the benefits of the outdoors to mental and physical health. In science, we studied elements of ecology before going to Oak Grove. We identified leaves, took notes in our science notebooks, and did projects about photosynthesis. When we were at Oak Grove for the first time this year, we were able to identify trees and learn about the problems that develop in the park. In addition to our study of ecology, our class also studied the relationship of people and nature as part of our health study. We read an article about the positive health effects that nature has on the human body. The research in the article helped us to think deeply about the benefits of our trailblazing, and understand the importance of the work that we were going to do. Without the things that we learned in school, we would not have had the learning experience that we did at Oak Grove.

How did your Oak Grove experience begin?

Ava Landman: Our Oak Grove experience began with our teachers brainstorming ways that us sixth-graders could experience and learn from Oak Grove throughout the year. Our teachers met during the summer to talk about the possibilities. When the teachers decided to give it a try, they made a video to invite us to a campout at Oak Grove. The campout took place in September. On the Thursday of our campout, we got our tents set up and had supper. After supper, we played games, had campfires, and had a time of worship. On Friday, we cooked our breakfast over a campfire in preparation for a big day of learning. Some of the learning activities we participated in were canoeing, mountain biking, tree identification, hiking, threats to Oak Grove, and geocaching. Throughout the next couple of weeks, we listed the needs that we learned about at Oak Grove and voted on the ones we would be able to help meet. Because the biking portion stood out to most kids, and we knew that there were plans to keep building the trail, we wanted to help meet the need of the bike trail. On Nov. 9, we went to Oak Grove for a day and helped double the trail. The Oak Grove trip began with the teachers, but it has grown from our ideas and work.

What work did we do?

Kenley Tuschen: Our Oak Grove work started by listening to our group leader about the work that needed to be done and how to do it. First, some members of the group picked up all the sticks while others could rake the leaves off the space that we needed to work on. There were people digging up weeds so that we could make the path level and as flat as possible. Part of the process was called benching. We would make a 90-degree edge in the slope which would prevent erosion, pull the dirt from one side to the other, and level the path as much as possible. There would sometimes be dead trees along the path, so the volunteers would help us cut them down, and we would haul them off of the path. There was one good sized slope that we all had to work very hard to bench so the bikers would be safe; benching was the hardest part. We finally got to the top which meant our portion of the trail was completed. We were very excited with our final work!

Why are we doing this work?

Elsie Vander Tuin: We are achieving this work to place opportunities for people to go outside and marvel at God’s creation. The outdoors are amazing, but in today’s society, people don’t go outside as often as what is beneficial. Building bike trails is building opportunities for people to go outside and get fresh air. As mentioned before, studies show that going outside can lower stress, build purpose, and increase their mood. The outdoors has also proven to increase cognitive health and decrease the risk for psychiatric disorders later in life. We are surrounded by screens and technology that distract us from enjoying God’s creation and remarkable things he gives us. We want to encourage people to spend time in God’s world, as He can show us his majesty and nobility. Building bike trails is giving people time and opportunity to enjoy God’s wonderful earth.

What real people did we reach?

Morgan Kooiman: When we built a bike trail with our grade at Oak Grove, our local state park, we reached people by giving them a safe place to enjoy God’s earth. People often have a lot on their plates with the busyness of life, and sometimes we just need to get away for a while. Science shows being outside is one of the best ways to relieve stress. It benefits your emotional well-being and physical health. Through building a bike trail, we may have reached people who are going through a hard time, and need to know that God is still in control. God shows his power through the whispering wind, the blooming of a flower, and His mightiness in a thunderstorm. God shows his power in creation, and through building a bike trail, we can display to others God’s world.

What real needs did we meet? Are there still needs to be met?

Elijah Rose: Real needs that we met are completing a bike trail and providing a place for people to enjoy. Normally, it takes the team of volunteers a year or two to complete a bike trail. Instead of only a few of the volunteers working, our group of 70 students, teachers, and volunteers were able to work on the bike trail. We were able to double the bike trail in just a few hours. We saved the regular volunteers time and energy. Also, we met the needs of those wanting to use the trail. People are able to bike, hike, snowshoe, and cross country ski on these trails. The trail gives people an opportunity to release stress, get physical exercise, enjoy time with friends and family, and worship God in His Creation. While we met some important needs, there are still more to be met.

Kaleb Meyers: There are still bugs, diseases, and invasive weeds that threaten Oak Grove. One threat is a little bug called the Emerald Ash Borer. This bug will go into trees and pretty much cut the tree from gaining the nutrients from the root. In time, this kills the tree. There are also some oak tree diseases that are working their way into Iowa, and will eventually cause major problems for Oak Grove. Finally, there are some invasive weeds in Oak Grove that continue to grow and prevent healthy plants from growing. We need to bring awareness of these threats to our communities.

In what ways have you changed (or grown) because of our Oak Grove experience?

Shaylee Heide: Some ways we have grown through our experience at Oak Grove is finding purpose in our work, working together, and becoming more aware of Creation. In school, we read an article that talks about eudaimonic well-being- feeling good and knowing you have a purpose in life. We know we have purpose, but the purpose isn’t always obvious. We all felt our purpose at Oak Grove. We could tell that people felt purposeful because girls were working with boys, and boys with girls; a very uncommon thing with sixth graders. The work was strenuous, so we had to count on each other to complete the task. Another way that we grew was through learning about trees, and now having the ability to identify the different types of trees. Through noticing the differences in trees, we learn to deeply appreciate all of God’s Creation.

What are your hopes for Oak Grove?

Austin Mouw: Our hopes for Oak Grove are that it will help people achieve a deeper and more full understanding of their relationship to God, our creator. We also hope that Oak Grove will become more accessible to people with disabilities without destroying the feeling of being in nature, basically not making Oak Grove too techy that people cannot enjoy nature. Additionally we hope that the hard work of many people will pay off and Oak Grove will continue to thrive far into the future, so that eventually we will be able to go back and ride the bike trail that we made. The sixth grade also hopes that Oak Grove will help people to see the hidden beauty in nature. Furthermore we hope that God will protect Oak Grove from the invasive species that are threatening to take over the park. But mostly we hope that God will just cast his blessing over all of Oak Grove and the people that come there to admire the wonderful things his hands created.