By Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A., author of The Complete Guide to Service Learning
Does Earth Day extend beyond our own backyards? Absolutely! In my travels around the world to promote best teaching practices and service learning, I meet educators who extend learning from inside the classroom into the community. By engaging students in identifying a real need, learning academic content, and developing essential skills, young people of all ages become capable of taking meaningful action. Service learning provides a research-based reliable framework that increases inquiry, participation, curiosity, creativity, and innovation while motivating students to learn more deeply. The results?
At the International School of Prague: During Earth Week in April, Upper School students plan and run an annual Earth Fair—however, all grade levels participate. Last year, kindergarten kids shared their learning about composting and raising chickens. This year, they are educating the community about upcycling and reusing recycled materials. Last school year, kindergarten classrooms created a Reuse Center to store all the materials collected and donated on a regular basis; all year long, students used these materials in classrooms as they studied force and motion and built models during a unit on homes and shelters.
At NIST International School in Bangkok: For the third consecutive year, students will be planting mangrove trees, which provides multiple benefits. Students get out of the city (Bangkok) and into a forest. They make species identification cards so others can learn more about this area. Also, mangrove trees sequester more carbon than other trees while providing marine and terrestrial habitats and coastal protection. This is a win-win-win!
In the San Francisco Bay Area: Students organize campus and community festivals highlighting kids’ efforts to protect and improve the environment. For example, students teach gardening skills and lead creative reuse projects at the City of Fremont’s Earth Day celebration. The local Regional Occupational Program hosts a Green Technology Fair showcasing service learning projects in green building, sustainable agriculture, and biofuels programs. At Alameda High, the Sierra Student Coalition works with clubs from across the school’s campus to organize an Earth Day Festival at lunch. The baking club made Earth-themed goodies while the art club sold jewelry made from found objects and recycled materials. One particular highlight of the event was the performance of an original Earth Day song written and performed by members of the school’s songwriters club.
In Barcelona: Since several parts of Spain are dry regions in risk of desertification and significant problems with water, many Earth Day projects consist of patronizing a river. When children patronize a river, they clean, protect, reforest, and spread the natural value of the river in the community. One example is the travelling swallows, promoted by the organization L’Arrel in a town called Sant Joan Despí, near Barcelona. In this effort, primary school children learn about the importance of swallows in their community. Without swallows, the town has more flies and mosquitos and the ecological balance is broken. The children analyze the disappearance of the swallows, search for solutions, and through teamwork, use model clay to build nests. These nests are installed in key locales in town and in the bridge across the river. The purpose is to attract swallows to make nests again in the town as they have done in the past. Since children started this action, swallows have been nesting again in the town: a big success!
Across the globe, children continue to be learning with purpose: to transform ideas into actions that benefit, protect, and preserve Earth. Let’s join them and make every day Earth Day.
Cathryn Berger Kaye is the author of The Complete Guide to Service Learning and coauthor with Phillipe Cousteau of Going Blue: A Teen Guide to Saving Our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, & Wetlands and Make a Splash! A Kid’s Guide to Protecting Our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, & Wetlands. For more about Cathryn Berger Kaye and her global offering of workshops and presentations at conferences and schools or her Summer Service Learning Institutes, visit www.cbkassociates.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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