Sowing the Seeds of Change

When I say service, you say learning: service-learning, service-learning! Three cheers for the 21st Annual National Service Learning Conference.

A few short weeks ago, thousands of youth, teachers, and service-learning practitioners from around the globe gathered at the San Jose Convention Center to get inspired, share ideas, and gain tools for engaging young people in community-service projects across disciplines. The diverse representation of exhibits, workshops, thought sessions, and projects showcased during the three-day conference underscored just what a powerful teaching method service-learning can be.

And just what is service learning, you ask? To put it simply, service-learning is education in action! And the secret to successful service-learning projects lies in a few critical and common ingredients, namely: meaningful reflection, diversity, youth voice, and partnerships. Service-learning builds community and spans cultural and national boundaries and develops young people.

On the second day of the conference, Save The Bay got the chance to show participants how it’s done! About 35 individuals from all corners of the U.S. descended upon the Palo Alto Baylands for a Community-based Restoration Program. With representatives of all backgrounds – from places like Texas, New York, Tennessee and Illinois (just to name a few) – we were able to plant almost 100 native seedlings along the Bay. What’s more, the group was able to learn about the key elements of a successful service-learning program and our precious Bay.

Click here for more information and resources about service-learning and the National Youth Leadership Council.

Or better yet, make Save The Bay’s Community-based Restoration Program your next service-learning project. This program engages young people in reinvigorating their communities, learning about wetland ecology and issues affecting the health of the Bay, and literally sowing those seeds of change.

Are you an educator? If so, find out how to this program aligns with curriculum standards and connects to many areas of study.

– Trisha Allen, Education Coordinator and Natalie LaVan, Restoration Volunteer & Outreach Coordinator

Local youth take on trash

By Sigrid Mueller, Education Director

As you may know, Save The Bay works hard to curb the steady onslaught of plastic bags and trash on our local waterways and the Bay. And now the Education Department is joining the fight with a new partnership with StopWaste.org, integrating watershed with waste reduction education for students and teachers in Alameda County.

Save The Bay and StopWaste share a common goal: to reduce the harmful impact of trash, waste and pollutants on the Bay and our community. And we share a common approach: using hands-on, experiential environmental education and service-learning to support young people with developing the necessary knowledge, skills and attitudes to adopt a sustainable life-style.

During almost all of our Canoes In Sloughs field trips, students find trash floating around the wetlands and they often wonder where it comes from. It is then that a proverbial light bulb goes off. An 11th grader from Berkeley High School had this to say:

“To tell you the truth, I littered even after our teacher has done all that recycling work with us. But when you took us out to the sloughs I saw for myself how the litter from my community washes down to the Bay and I was appalled by it. Since then,I have stopped littering.”

Analogous to “a picture is worth a thousand words” students leave our field trips deeply touched and motivated to change their attitudes and behaviors.

And this is where StopWaste comes in. They provide students with the perfect opportunity to turn their motivation into action through a year-round, on-campus program called Service-Learning Waste Reduction Project (better known as SLWRP). SLWRP trains and supports teachers to educate students about waste and to engage them in waste reduction projects in their schools and communities. This school year, Save The Bay is partnering with five SLWRP schools closing the loop for many students by helping them understand how the Bay is connected to their campus and why it matters that they’re doing their part to keep trash off the ground.

One of our partner schools has already kicked into gear! A teacher at Wood Middle School started to notice the rapid increase of candy wrappers in her own neighborhood and at school weeks before Halloween. She brought this issue to the attention of her 8th graders, who quickly recognized those candy wrappers are not just an eye sore but are potentially harmful pieces of trash. The students decided to take action by writing letters to the editor of their local newspaper, demanding more public awareness around the threats of litter to wildlife, the Bay and the ocean. Here’s how one 8th grader put it:

“Every year I realize that happy, candy-loving children throw plastic candy wrappers on the ground. Well, for one thing piles of non-degradable plastic go into the drains and right into the ocean. The fish in the sea think the plastic is food. And the seagulls — who eat ANYTHING — eat the wrappers and the fish. The plastic blocks the throat and the stomach and kill the animal! We throw the trash on the ground and don’t bother to pick it up because a) no one is watching; b) it’s now stepped on; and c) you’re just not going to bother. If we could just remind parents and children to not litter, there is less work for the environment and less work for the trash collectors. Please help us save Alameda and the world. The world lies in our hands.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.