Dream Big!

Posted on Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Two Michigan educators are teaching elementary-aged children to DREAM BIG through real life Michigan adventures and learning experiences.

Tracy Foster (B.A. ’96, Elementary Education) is a kindergarten teacher and Shannon Cooper-Toma is a principal for Corunna Public Schools. Each school year, Foster takes themed registration photos for all of her new students. She decided it would be fun to do a sea theme, and took four kindergartners to Lake Michigan for their photos.

"It was so much fun watching their eyes light up," Foster said. "We enjoyed answering their questions about the lake such as 'are we at the ocean?' or 'do sharks live here?" It inspired Foster and Cooper-Toma to think of other ways they could take students out of the classroom for learning experiences.

“We realized a lot of kids right here never get to travel out of state, or even around their own state,” Foster said. “Educational travel makes science and history come alive.”

It was on their drive home from Lake Michigan that the two decided to write a book, “Benson’s Adventures in Michigan,” so that everyone could experience learning through travel. Foster and Cooper-Toma first took students from their own district in Corunna around the state and included those adventures in the book.

Since then, Foster, Cooper-Toma, and several mid-Michigan students from several different school districts logged about 8,000 miles in 37 different locations learning about and exploring all that Michigan has to offer. 

Some of these excursions included going dog sledding at Nature’s Kennel; taking a Pictured Rocks cruise; going through an old iron mine; touring the Shinola factory; biking with Jason Hall for Slow Roll Detroit; attending a basketball camp with former NBA player, Morris Peterson, Jr.; conducting science experiments on a tall ship while sailing on a Great Lake; enjoying theatre performances; climbing Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes; touring Kilwin's Chocolate Factory; and visiting various national landmarks.  The authors even surprised two students with the trip of a lifetime to New York City to be in a private photo shoot with Ginger Zee, who is included in the book, on the set of Good Morning America.

“The ultimate goal is to give every child in the state of Michigan a copy of the book.” Foster says. “This would allow all children the opportunity to see the beauty of Michigan -- if they weren’t able to travel -- and the endless opportunities Michigan has to encourage all children to dream big.”

The book includes excursions to various Michigan locations with photographs and interesting information along with a challenge for each location. More importantly, the book helps families and school districts provide children with travel experiences that teach children about the different ideas and opportunities that can arise when they travel outside their own neighborhoods.

“A field trip can awaken the desire in a child to try new things and pursue previously unconsidered dreams,” Foster says. “Field trips can introduce children to job opportunities and can spark new interests and passions.”

They also can learn more deeply about topics by experiencing them firsthand; this fosters cultural understanding and tolerance. Additionally, students can learn through composing postcards or letters that writing is connected to the world, as well as how to describe their own experiences.

For now, the project has been supported entirely by Foster and Cooper-Toma’s personal funds while they look for sponsors. They are currently working on a second book of Michigan adventures, but hope to create an edition for each state. Foster and Cooper-Toma are open and welcome to referrals from social workers and school administrators or educators who know of students interested in traveling.

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Tracy Foster (pictured to the right in a blue striped dress) is the current Teacher of Year 2016 for Corunna Public Schools. She attended Western Michigan University for her Bachelor's degree in the College of Education and Human Development. Tracy has been a kindergarten teacher for 18 years at Corunna Public Schools. She also holds a Master's degree from Saginaw Valley State University. Shannon Cooper-Toma (to the left in a white dress) attended Michigan State University. She also holds a Master's degree from Saginaw Valley State University.

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