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A golf course becomes a science lab for Kalamazoo students

A long white folding table on the banks of Whites Lake holds 4 white plastic tubs with different soil samples in them.  The instructor wears a blue golf shirt and khaki pants.  Two female students and an instructor stand listening to him.  One girl has long black braids with pink tips, blue jean cut off shorts and a sleeveless white tank top.  The girl next to her in blue jeans and a black t-shirt carries a white backpack.  A female teacher with blond hair is barely seen next to the girl with the backpack.  A red golden retriever runs along the shore near a First Green banner.  Lily pads grow abundantly in the lake.
Leona Larson
Students gather at the soil lab station at the Kalamazoo Country Club on July 8 while Ellie, a golden retriever, runs by. She belongs to a member of the KCC staff and works to keep geese off the green.

A group of soon-to-be high school freshmen explored bugs, soil management and irrigation at a golf course. They even played a little golf.

Eighteen incoming high school freshmen from the Kalamazoo Public Schools took a field trip to a golf course Monday as part of a summer science program.

An organization called First Green pairs school districts with golf courses to teach students about science and technology. Monday marked the first time a First Green event was held in Southwest Michigan, according to the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency (KRESA).

The program was held at the Kalamazoo Country Club.

Four STEM lab stations were placed on the greens, along the shores of Whites Lake. The labs focused on soils, bugs, macroinvertebrates, and water quality and conservation. A fifth station on the putting green gave the students from Kalamazoo Public Schools Summer Math and Science Institute an opportunity to try golf.

Diane Owen-Rogers is with KRESA. She is also the Southwest regional director for MiSTEM.

“It's something that you don't typically think about when you're out having fun on the golf course, but there's a lot of math and science that goes into making this a beautiful space and also keeping the environment healthy and the ecosystem here working,” Owen-Rogers said.

A man in a ball cap and blue and white golf shirt looks on as a male student in a red t-shirt, glasses and lose cornrow braids reaches in to look for macroinvertebrates in a white plastic tub at a Fresh Green Stem lab station at the Kalamazoo Country Club.  There is a jar on the folding white table, some paper, and at least three more plastic tubs with different types of organisms in them.
Leona Larson
A KPS student studies macroinvertebrates on a golf course on July 8.

Jason Raddatz, with the Michigan College Alliance, said it’s important to get students into the field.

“They're doing legit science, right? They're looking at these animals and these macroinvertebrates and insects and making that decision. Hmm... this is a good environment for those, and this is a healthy ecosystem where most people would not expect to find a healthy ecosystem.”

The students who went on the field trip will earn a high school environmental science credit for successfully completing the five-week summer program.

Melvin Ferguson was one of those students. He called it a “great new experience” for him and his classmates. He said it was his first time at the golf course.

“I knew it existed, it’s just that I've never really been inside the country club before," Ferguson said. He added that it was his first time walking around the facility, which he described as nice, fun, and “very clean.”

Daria Smith agreed. She said when she was a student at Woods Lake Elementary School she'd pass by the Kalamazoo Country Club on her way to and from school. She said she always wondered what it was like inside.

“It’s fun, it’s really nice. I love the people here."

"It smells good,” Smith added with a chuckle.

Sam Noakes, 13, gave a similar review.

“I think it’s pretty awesome. I mean you see a lot of cool stuff, you get to putt, and I think it’s pretty good.”

All three students plan to attend Kalamazoo Central High School in the fall.

Leona has worked as a journalist for most of her life - in radio, print, television and as journalism instructor. She has a background in consumer news, special projects and investigative reporting.