Service Learning & Nature Studies
By Andrea Caluori-Rivera
MassLIFT AmeriCorps Member at Hilltown Land Trust & Kestrel Land Trust
Service learning is a great way to encourage active citizenship and a strong environmental ethic. Last weekend, I sat down with fellow MassLIFT AmeriCorps member, Nick Atherton, to talk about his role as the Service Learning Coordinator at Mount Grace Land Trust and to learn how to incorporate service learning into nature studies projects.
Nick’s primary role is to partner with local schools by creating service-learning opportunities for students that connect them to the outdoors and cultivate environmental awareness. His recent collaborations include interpretive sign making for local trails and research projects on the socio-economic benefits associated with having access to pristine and healthy eco-systems. He also assists classes with property monitoring of local town trails, and is in the process of helping a middle school class create and care for a classroom garden. Based on his experiences, Nick explains, “Service-learning empowers young people. It connects them to the community and to their work. It fosters a connection to the land, and makes people stakeholders in their environment.”
With all of these projects, Nick also relies on older generations to pass down their wisdom and skills. For example, in order to start the classroom garden, Nick consulted a community volunteer and master gardener to teach him basic gardening. “These experiences of growing your own food or monitoring properties, they are all best taught from a place of passion, which falls a lot on volunteers to pass down to younger generations.” Passion is at the core of volunteerism. By donating time to share our skills and give back, we become more connected to our neighbors, family and community. As Nick mentioned in our meeting, service learning is a great way to cultivate intergenerational skill sharing. It highlights how we all are integral parts of our community and that everyone has something to teach, learn and share.
So, what are some ways you can combine service learning into your nature studies? Nick and I compiled a few service learning resources to get you started at home and in your community.
Build a Birdhouse
Learn about different bird species and habitat! Building a birdhouse is a great activity to do on a rainy afternoon that incorporates many skills and interests (woodworking, building, design, citizen science). There are many things to consider before building a birdhouse so take a look at Mass Audubon’s informational site on birdhouses to get started.
Pulling Invasive Plants
Many local land trusts and nature organizations in our Western Massachusetts communities host volunteer days where folks can help pull invasive plant species in order to protect and maintain the health of native plants. Check out these local land trusts and organizations to see if they’re offering a volunteer day to pull invasive species this spring:
- Hilltown Land Trust (Ashfield, MA)
- Kestrel Land Trust (Amherst, MA)
- Franklin Land Trust (Shelburne Falls, MA)
- The Trustees of Reservations (statewide)
- Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary (Easthampton, MA)
- Mount Grace Land Trust (Athol, MA)
Share a Skill
Do you know how to garden, build a birdhouse, or are an avid birder? Think about how you can share your skills with others in the community! Volunteer to lead a workshop at your local library or land trust and share your knowledge!
Become a Property Monitor
Learn to be a property monitor, meet other volunteers, and help us care for the land you love. Hilltown Land Trust and Kestrel Land Trust are partnering to offer a crash course on property monitoring. This 3-hour class is designed for volunteers who want to refresh their monitoring skills or are interested in becoming a volunteer property monitor for either organization. Visit www.hilltow-land-trust.org for more information.
Start a Neighborhood Garden
A garden is a great way to foster community, service and skill sharing. Children can participate and volunteer their time at the garden while also learning the value of growing food and sustainability. Check out the American Community Gardening Association for tips on starting a community garden.
Do a BioBlitz
Participate in National Geographic’s 2016 BioBlitz, a 24-hour event where folks all over the country visit their local parks and record all living species seen. This is a great way to help out scientists document the wildlife, plants and organisms living in our state parks! The 2016 BioBlitz is the weekend of May 20th-21st – learn more at National Geographic web site.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andrea is currently a MassLIFT AmeriCorps member serving Hilltown Land Trust and Kestrel Land Trust as a Community Engagement Coordinator. Last year she served as a RISE AmeriCorps member at Hilltown Cooperative Charter Public School in Easthampton, MA. A Bronx, NY native, Andrea moved to New England in 2003 where she completed her A.B. in Art History at Mt. Holyoke College followed by a M.A. degree in Italian Literary & Cultural Studies at UConn Storrs where she taught Italian language. She has interned at cultural institutions such as Old Sturbridge Village and the New-York Historical Society and has taught history, culture, and farm education for a variety of youth programs. In her spare time, Andrea enjoys writing for different online publications and exploring New England’s towns, trails, art and food culture.