School project brings educational animal tales to Rycenga Park

(Courtesy photo) If you scan a QR code sign along the Rycenga Park nature trail, your phone will take you to videos created by Jeffers Elementary School students that detail some animals who live there.

SPRING LAKE TWP. — Rycenga Park is going high-tech.

Through a collaborative effort between Spring Lake Township Assessor Heather Singleton and second-grade students and teachers at Jeffers Elementary School, QR code signs have been installed in the township-owned park to educate visitors on animals that reside there.

When visitors use their mobile phones to scan the codes, it directs their internet browser to stories and videos created by the second-graders.

“I’m amazed how these younger folks have this ability to think of these cool ideas,” Spring Lake Township Manager Gordon Gallagher said. “One of the stories is about an opossum. It talks about how they eat bugs, they only come out at night, they’re scared of people and they’re good for the environment. It’s kind of told from the possum’s view. It’s a narrated story. You scan it and a video plays.”

Singleton connected with the teachers during a Chamber of Commerce Leadership Connect program. She worked with S.T.E.M. teacher Betsy Kipling and art teacher Carrie Andrews.

“My favorite volunteer opportunities have always been with kids,” Stapleton said. “I want these kids to have a connection to their community. This was my way of doing that.”

Last fall, the students took a field trip to Rycenga Park to learn about the trails. Next, the kids invited animal experts to their school and interviewed them.

“When they interviewed them, they were enhancing their communication skills,” Singleton said. “They’re learning how to interview. These are skills they’re going to need. The whole goal is to provide information to the community. My intent is to tweak this project each year and expand it to the older grades, too.”

So far, signs are in place featuring raccoons and opossums.

Singleton hopes to continue to expand the nature trail project. She also wants to explore using the QR technology for reserving picnic shelters at the park and for wayfinding for Lakeside Trail users.

“We can put anything behind these QR codes,” she said. “Maybe we can put one on the Township Hall that tells the history of the building. People can download a QR code reader for free. We have this technology and it’s really not costing anything. We’re hosting the information on our website.”

Singleton thinks the technology could be particularly helpful on the bike path.

“The codes could show the businesses near the trail, where you are and a map of the trail,” she said. “That’s the whole intent – to be communicating with our community. I think there are a lot of things we could use these for. I’m hoping they get used and I’m hoping it’s helpful.”

Kipling and Andrews said the children loved the project and learned much from it.

“This project taught students about the value of research, giving back to the community and sharing knowledge with others,” Kipling said. “This project empowered students to be leaders in their own education and the education of others.”

Andrews agreed.

“Students learned that they have the power to share knowledge, no matter what age they are, and that the knowledge they have is meaningful,” she said.

To view the children’s videos, visit www.springlaketwp.org/departments/parks-recreation/rycenga-park-videos/

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