Sunday, May 31, 2009

Kids, Social Action, and the Three Fires West Park Trail

One of my favorite books about teaching is The Kid's Guide to Social Action by Barbara Lewis. The book has some inspiration--it has real stories of how kids and teachers made a difference in their communities, and it also has some how-to--how to write letters, how to write grants, how to make speeches, how to circulate petitions...

When I used to share this book with teachers at teacher trainings, I would sometimes get the stares of fear--how could one start on such audacious projects? That's probably because the book starts out with a group of kids, and a teacher (Barbara Lewis), who notice a local toxic waste site, and end up getting Utah's first Superfund law passed. Yes, I'm serious. Yes, it took more than one year. Yes, the teacher was essential. Yes, the kids were essential. Yes, building allies in the community and the government was essential. Yes, persistence was essential. Yes, parents were essential. And yes, that started a culture of social action in the school. But NO, the kids were not rich, the parents were not rich, it was not a fancy neighborhood. When you read about it, it is ultimately so awe-inspiring and yet seemingly achievable. Those kids are grown now, but I'll bet that a lot of them have gone on to do great things. And they have a lasting achievement--legislation that ultimately made a difference.

But can kids get involved in social action anywhere? Yes, they can. Even in Ann Arbor.

It might be a little hard to read this plaque. It says,
This stone placed February 12, 1929 by the Ann Arbor Council Boy Scouts of America and marks an old Indian trail plainly visible on that date.

The plaque can be found on the southern edge of West Park where the stairs go up. I "knew" about the trail from the sign, but it wasn't "plainly visible" over the years that I've lived in Ann Arbor.
Well, that is about to change. Thanks to the persistence of a few years-worth of classes of kids, and two dedicated teachers (one at Ann Arbor Open and one at Community High School), AND thanks to the parks planners at the City of Ann Arbor, that trail is being re-established. It took persistence on the part of the teachers, especially; and interest on the part of the students.

Click here to read more about the West Park master plan. Thanks, Cindy Haidu-Banks and Denise Chacon-Lontin (teachers). Thanks, Amy Kuras (parks planner). Thanks, everyone else--students and community members--who supported, and support, this small effort to remember the tribes who lived in this area. It's spring! Get outdoors, go visit the trail.

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