MCC students restore retired principal’s dream of a nature center.

June 12, 2017

MCC students restore retired principal’s dream of a nature center.

 

#SpartanProud #ScottvilleNews.

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief. 

SCOTTVILLE — When Ed Malkowski retired as the middle school principal of Mason County Central in 1993, he thought his dream of creating a nature center just outside the school building was dead. Twenty-three years later, hope has been restored, thanks to teachers Mike Weinert and Rachel Brock, and the students in their high school Art and Ecology classes.

Malkowski started working on the nature center in the early 1980s in an empty field just northeast of the middle school. Soil was used to build the middle school, which opened in 1976.

“I would have teachers approach me who wanted to take their students on field trips to study nature,” Malkowski said. “Back then the school couldn’t afford busing for extra activities like that.” So, he looked out his office window and had a vision to turn the empty field across the road into something grand. Malkowski approached the Mason-Lake Soil Conservation District (now called the Mason-Lake Conservation District) which gave him advice on how to proceed. He then brought in the army, literally.

“I had the National Guard out of Manistee come in with these huge tanks and bulldozers. They made the trail system,” he said. Businesses donated materials and volunteers donated their time. When it was completed, the nature center had three miles of walking trails with the center point being a pond, complete with bridges.

Over time, the nature center deteriorated. The school built a new sports complex and used part of the land for the soccer field. Malkowski said the drive to keep the property up fizzled.

Then, came science teacher Mike Weinert, a graduate of Mason County Central who had Mr. Malkowski as his middle principal. Weinert came up with the idea of creating a class called Art and Ecology. He spoke with art teacher Rachel Brock and asked her if she would partner with him, and she agreed.

The class would concentrate on restoring the nature center and also take the students on field trips that incorporated a symbiosis between art and science.

“At the beginning of the class, we give the students an outline of projects that need to be taken on,” Weinert said. “They put together a plan on what they want to do, they form teams, and they bring their plans to Ms. Brock and I for approval. We then set goals.”

The students get a lot of freedom to perform the tasks. Over the past year, the students went into the community and asked for donations to restore the trail system. They rebuilt a deteriorating bridge. They built bird and bat houses, they made signs for the center, benches, and repainted and repaired a storage shed.

“This is beyond my expectation,” Malkowski said as the students gave him a recent tour of the nature center. “When I first saw its decline, I thought it was a dead project.”

Superintendent Jeff Mount said the class and its project is a perfect example of project based learning.

“There is a lot of problem solving that has to be done on a project like this,” Mount said. “The students are faced with a challenge and they start working on it and complete it. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

The nature center will soon also be a place where the community can share a vegetable garden. In 2016, Becky Alway, who is now a member of the board of education, received a Love Ludington mini grant of $500 to create a community garden. “The nature center seems like the perfect place to utilize the funds for the community garden,” Alway said. “We are encouraging the public to come out to the this space and explore it and utilize it.”

The board of education is also considering naming the nature center in honor of Malkowski, who served as principal for 32 years. The board is expected to take action on that decision later in the summer or early in the fall, according to Mount.

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