West Newbury - 6th Grade - Riverbend Trails Project

Riverbend Trails Project

Sixth graders in West Newbury used public lands that abut their school as an outdoor classroom to gain cross-curricular content and skills-based knowledge in a real-world context, effectively advocate for their community’s resources, and teach others about their work.  As a result of the students’ collaboration with the local Open Space CommitteeDepartment of Public Works, and the Conservation Commission, funding was secured to build a bridge that connects trails that the students came to value - a tangible result for an engaging project.  Led by a team of sixth-grade teachers who attended the Park for Every Classroom summer workshop offered by Essex Heritage and Salem Maritime National Historic Site, this project became a meaningful way for these professionals to reinvigorate their practice and build community ties.  

Read more in the Newburyport Daily News

Impact on students:  

Reach multiple cross-disciplinary curricular goals:


  • students conducted quadrant studies of the public lands, analyzing data about air temperature, water temperature, water Ph level, cloud cover, and topographical features
  • students observed and researched flora and fauna within the public land, sharing this information at a public forum

social studies:

  • with help from the West Newbury Historical Society, students researched the history of the trails, abandoned structures, and artifacts found on the property
  • students utilized GPS equipment and developed mapping skills as they explored the public lands and trails system


  • students graphed and mathematically manipulated data related to quadrant studies

English Language Arts:

  • students created historical fiction articles based on exploration of the property and historical research about its past

Develop civic engagement through service learning:  

  • Students became public advocates of the trails and trail property by working with the West Newbury Open Space Committee, in conjunction with the Essex County Trail Association to secure funding for trail improvement, including the development of bridges on the trails.  Students prepared a letter of support, demonstrating why maintaining access to this space was so important to them.  This advocacy resulted in funding of the bridge project.
  • After developing a survey through which they learned that the vast majority of their classmates were not even aware of the trails behind the school, students presented their trail-based work at a public school-wide assembly to which community partners were invited, encouraging all to use the trails.

Impact on teachers

John B., 6th grade teacher:  “This experience has helped me grow as a teacher in many ways. After teaching for twenty plus years it is easy to fall into routines and continue to believe that how you are teaching is the right way. I thought that technology had taken over the lives of my students outside of school and there was not much I could do about it. I thought that reading from a text would be sufficient to get across the material I needed to cover. I thought that I needed to go “by the book” or else fail in covering the necessary standards. This place-based service learning project allowed me to see that all of these thoughts were wrong. It not only changed my teaching in a profound way but changed who I was as a teacher even more. I was able to see that I could pull kids back into the natural world through academics and that was an amazing epiphany for me, which lead to many others throughout this journey.”

Impact on the community

The trails project brought together partners from many community-based organizations, including the West Newbury Open Space Committee, the West Newbury Historical Society, and the West Newbury Department of Public Works.  Students, teachers and community partners worked together toward the common goals of education and advocacy for the trails. 

Barbara I., 6th grade teacher: “It was truly a collaborative effort between the West Newbury Open Space Committee, the Conservation Committee, and the Eagle Scouts. This project has allowed us to become part of the plan.”