The Power of Environmental Service Learning

Every year students across Washington learn about the “real world” as they participate in service learning projects that focus on the environment. The following student reflections on experiences show that learning through service is substantial, diverse, and powerful.

Students gained technical knowhow from lessons on habitat restoration, wetlands preservation, growing local food, and rescuing animals. They acquired skills in leadership, speaking, and teamwork. Their learning was also philosophical, as they pondered the very purpose of community and the role of young people in society. Here are some student reflections, recorded throughout the school year.

Students at Spanaway Elementary School participated in the fourth year of a community garden project. Students learned about many complex gardening techniques, including alternative growing methods. Reflecting on this experience, one student wrote, “…[W]e should use vinegar or lemon juice to kill bugs without harming the plants.” Another student showed forward thinking, writing that, “[W]e can use clones in our garden so we can use less money because we wouldn’t have to buy the same plants.” In a frank analysis, another student said, “We should be careful when we grow plants because we don’t want them to go to waste.”

Spanaway students’ learning reflected the broad activities included in their grant. After making presentations on their gardening projects, one student noted that public speaking “can be exciting and nerve-racking at the same time.” Another found that, “It takes a lot of guts. You can’t just go in and stutter or whisper because people won’t be able to understand you.” An earnest classmate simply stated that she, “plan[s] to learn how to be more comfortable speaking to others.”

Students in the Spokane area participated in a variety of projects. One middle school student reflected on their work at an animal shelter, writing: “Sometimes certain animals need some extra care and if you take that little bit of time it is worth it.” Another middle school student found that, “It’s important to work as a team, even when you are having lots of difficulties…” A student from St. Patrick’s School in Spokane wrote: “I learned how much more industrial countries have instead of developing countries. Also, I learned how much people are kind enough to donate to the poor.” Another said, “I… plan to learn how to be a better person
and give to the less fortunate.” 

Service learning projects can have many goals, as lofty or grand as any teacher or student can imagine. But at the end of the day, the quality of student learning is what matters. These students’ reflections show us that learning through service can give students a wide variety of knowledge that fits their everyday lives – today and in the future. Can we hope for more?

Originally published as “Students reflect on learning through service to the environment,” in the November 2005 edition of ServiceLine.

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