GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Some students from Grand Rapids Public Schools are spending part of their week outside, learning to navigate the waters of the Grand River.

About 1,000 eighth graders from around the district will spend part of a day at Riverside Park learning to canoe this week.

It’s part of a partnership between GRPS and the Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Department, funded in part by the Wege Foundation and partly by a Grand Rapids taxpayers millage approved in 2019 to support the Grand Rapids Parks Department.

GR Parks and Recreation Department Director David Marquardt said the program helps students learn about the local environment.

“This is a great opportunity for the kids to learn about the distinct ecology here in Grand Rapids. Very regionally and very locally. We learn about these things in the classroom. We learn about the environment. We learn about these more global efforts,” said Marquardt. “But to make it more micro-focused and make it about our area specifically, that’s the work that happens here in spaces like this.”

A non-profit called Wilderness Inquiry teaches the students in this program by taking them out on special canoes called north canoes that can seat 10 people.

“We take the kids on the boats and we teach them paddling and teach them teamwork and environmental education as well,” said Wilderness Inquiry Outdoor Guide Tyler Bleeker. “It is a totally different environment than the school classroom. You come out here and the kids are excited. This is a new area.”

Marquardt said this is all part of the GR Parks Department’s mission to provide outdoor experiences and elevate the quality of life for residents in the city.

“The kids get to learn a little bit about the skills of working together. How to navigate these boats in the water and about water safety. There’s a lot of online learning as well. We have a number of land-based partners, we call them, working with us to provide that land based education as well,” he said.

Those land-based partners teach about things like water quality and the environment.