Pictured is a portion of the new sensory path at Cerra Vista Elementary School, created by Hollister Eagle Scout candidate Jake Varnes. Photo courtesy of Hollister School District

Ever since Hollister High School senior Jake Varnes finished his time as a student at Cerra Vista Elementary School, he wanted to find some way to give back to the school. He found a path toward doing just that with his Eagle Scout project. 

Varnes and others helping him with the project have developed what’s called a “sensory path” on walkways outside at Cerra Vista for the project needed for him to gain rarified Eagle Scout status. A Scout since his early years attending Cerra Vista, Varnes learned about the prospect of creating a sensory path, which is an area with directed movements meant to engage students’ minds as they expend energy. 

“When kids are walking through, they can learn something and have fun while they’re going through the hallways,” explained Varnes, who expressed gratitude to the many people who helped out with the project. 

The sensory path includes such painted figures as a sunflower, lady bug, caterpillar, shapes and stacked blocks, just to name a few. 

Varnes noted how P.E. teacher Kristy Burchard, also a local Scouts troop leader, mentioned teachers’ desire for a sensory path and encouraged the project theme. 

“Teachers were looking into doing something like that for a couple years now,” he said. 

Varnes went to work on the project that included everything from researching the right paint for an outdoor pathway to calculating a budget and coordinating the team of helpers who came out to assist. He met with teachers to consult about details a few days prior to Veterans Day weekend, when Varnes and the volunteer team came out to do the physical work such as stenciling and painting. 

Cerra Vista Principal Tami Ortiz was on board from the outset as well. 

“He came. He heard their ideas. He asked me if it was OK to allow the project,” Ortiz recalled. “I said, ‘Absolutely!’”

Ortiz noted that Burchard has a lot of elementary students in her Scouts troop. 

“They showed up to help. Their parents showed up to help,” said Ortiz, noting how the list of volunteers was lengthy and also included high school football players along with his family and friends. 

“It was definitely a community project,” she added. 

Ortiz in mid-November noted how Varnes had to wrap up some finishing details to the artwork—such as adding months of the year with the sunflower design and days of the week with lady bugs scattered in another spot of the sidewalk—and was set to write papers to complete the Eagle Scout process. He had to do so before turning 18 in December. 

She said there are plans in the works for a celebration at the school once Varnes is notified about the Eagle Scout status, likely sometime in January. Like other staff members, Ortiz was excited about the positive impacts for students from the new path. 

Pictured is a portion of the new sensory path at Cerra Vista Elementary School, created by Hollister Eagle Scout candidate Jake Varnes. Photo courtesy of Hollister School District

“They’re worried about their feet and their hands and their balance. It takes them away from all of those emotions and gives them a break,” she said. “It’s a tool to help students for whatever reason: ADHD, emotional regulation, they’ve got the wiggles, or maybe they had too much sugar before they came to school.” 

Ortiz underscored the difficulty of juggling such a project with everything else going on for a senior like Varnes such as college applications and pursuing scholarships. She said a very small percentage of Scouts earn Eagle status. 

Varnes recollected how originally, there were talks of less-intensive projects such as shade structures or sandboxes. His parents were involved along the way, and his father Ken Varnes came away quite impressed with his son’s commitment to what became a much larger project. 

“He put in quite a bit of effort for it,” his dad said. “It started off as a much smaller project, and it blew up because he had a lot of heart and passion for it.” 

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