Service-Learning Through Environmental Education

April & May 2007   

St. Michaels Elementary School Service-Learning Environmental Club, St. Michaels Elementary School, Talbot County Public Schools, Katie Douglas, 410-745-2882

Through an after school program, Service-Learning through Environmental Education, St. Michaels Elementary 6th grade students heightened their understanding of the interrelationships between plants, animals, humans, and the environment.  Through this program, students helped to build a greater awareness of natural resources and environmental issues in the school and community.  Their projects included landscaping at the local fire department; developing brochures about water conservation and energy conservation; developing a school-wide recycling program; planting native plants; making presentations to the community, parents, and students on the importance of wetlands; and developing a school-wide Fun Fair about environmental education.

Best Practice 1:  What recognized community need was met by your project (e.g. health, education, environmental or public safety need)?

Students have witnessed first hand the depletion of the Chesapeake Bay resources and communicated their concerns in school. Students, many of whom have parents that earn their living by working on the water, formed an environmental club.  The students and their families experience the impact of environmental issues.  In our community, wetlands are being destroyed by construction, and much of the community seems unaware of the importance of preserving and sustaining our environment. 

Twenty-three students decided to form an after school club to learn about the environment and to help build awareness in the school and local community.  Through this club, we feel that we have helped the community, the students of St. Michaels Elementary, and ourselves learn about ways that we can stop pollution, encourage recycling, restore native plants, inform others about the importance of the wetlands, and help with energy conservation.

Best Practice 2:  How was the project connected to school curriculum (e.g. what course outcomes were met and/or how did the project reinforce or enhance student academic learning)?

In the Maryland State Voluntary Curriculum (VSC) for science, there is a strand that deals with environmental issues.  One of the objectives in the curriculum that we met was to recognize and explain that human-caused changes have consequences for Maryland's environment as well as for other places and future times.   This VSC indicator formed the basis for our after school environmental program. 

By creating brochures about energy conservation and water conservation, students had to compose oral, written, and visual presentations that persuade others.  This helped with our writing objectives for 6th grade.

After completing the “Wetlands Youth Leadership” program, students had to present to community members, students, and parents on the importance of wetlands.  This activity connected with the speaking skills objectives in the VSC.  Students had to use appropriate organizational strategies and delivery techniques to present a variety of oral presentations.

Best Practice 3:  How did you reflect on your experience throughout the project?

At the beginning of each weekly meeting, we reviewed our objectives and discussed if we had accomplished them or how we were going to meet our goals.  We discussed our successes in our projects and the things we would like to do to make the project more valuable.  We recorded our reflections as a whole group so we could take note of these things.  We found reflection one of the most valuable parts of this project because this helped us focus on our goals and make sure we were meeting them. 

Best Practice 4:  How did students take leadership roles and take responsibility for the success of the project? 

The students developed the entire program.  At the beginning of the year, twenty-three students were interested in forming a Service-Learning Club focusing on environmental issues.  By talking with a local non-profit organization, Environmental Concerns, students developed a plan of activities.  Throughout the year, students were given different responsibilities to lead.  For example, James Thomas and William Johnson were coordinators for the recycling program.  Alaina Hall and Dustin Jones coordinated the Fun Fair for Environmental Education.  Lee Tribbitt and Brooks Hambleton were very interested in landscaping at the local fire department, so they took charge of organizing that project.  These students were chosen by other club members and were in charge of overseeing the projects, but everyone participated.  Each member had different strengths, and by identifying those strengths and matching them to a project, leaders were appointed. 

Best Practice 5:  What community partners did you work with on this project (e.g. non-profits, civic organizations, business that provided donations, etc.)?

Our main community partnership was established with Environmental Concerns which is located in St. Michaels.  Environmental Concerns works with schools around the state to focus on wetland education.  They helped us determine our objectives and plan our program for the year.  Maryland Department of Natural Resources helped by giving us an Aquatic Resources Education grant for approximately $1,800.  The grant funded all the activities and provided matching funds for our Environmental Concerns donations.  Tuckahoe State Park also served as a community partner by teaching students about endangered animals and ways we can help them.  For our Fun Fair celebration for the entire school, park staff came and explained how to help endangered animals. 

Best Practice 6:  How did you prepare and plan ahead for the project?

Students met and decided what our environmental needs were and then decided what activities we wanted to carry out throughout the year.  We created a timeline that was a guide to accomplishing our goals.  We worked with Environmental Concerns to write the Aquatic Resources Education grant.  Environmental Concerns provided input and suggestions to make our grant stronger.

Best Practice 7:  What knowledge and skills did students develop through this project?

A wealth of knowledge was gained throughout this program, and students developed an appreciation of the environment.  During the program, the following skills and objectives were not only met by club members, but by students school-wide: 
  • Create a recycling bin for cans, bottles, and etc.
  • Learn about Oystering on the Chesapeake and the important role of the Bay by visiting the Maritime Museum.
  • Create different signs of reminders to display around the school to save electricity. 
  • Complete Scales and Tales program through Tuckahoe State Park.
  • Create a brochure about energy conservation.
  • Create a brochure about ways to conserve water.
  • Hold an Environmental Fun Fair Celebration for the school.
  • Complete the following programs at Environmental Concerns:  Wetland Survivor, Wetland Youth Leadership, and Nursery Tours.
  • Grow native seedlings and plant them on Arbor Day.
  •  Landscape native plants at the local fire department.   

After completing these goals during the 2006-07 school year, students are going to work toward the goal of helping our school become a “Green School” next year.