On a recent Saturday morning, I spent some time removing an invasive exotic plant from a local park. Organized by a statewide non-profit with support from the local park department, the event saw two dozen of us dodging chiggers and mosquitoes to remove an escaped landscaping plant that is rapidly crowding out native plants from the understory. By the end of the morning, we had several trash bags full–and two dozen more people wiser to the ways of invasive exotic plants.
Through this event, the park and the non-profit saw an opportunity for interpretation in their need to remove an invasive exotic plant. Janice Easton and Martha Monroe at the University of Florida distinguish service learning from volunteerism by its emphasis on personal connection and on learning, and note that service learning can explore cultural and social topics, as well as scientific ones.
Resources for interpretation through service abound! Maryland, which claims to be the first state to require service learning as a high graduation requirement, offers project ideas, program evaluation techniques, and other tools from its Department of Education. Watershed Partners offers tips for planning and organizing service projects that address watershed pollution. Resources are also found on federal websites, though these are currently inaccessible due to the shutdown. Many resources focus on service with children, but service can involve anyone – my fellow plant-pullers ranged from middle-schoolers to retirees.
October 26 is Make a Difference Day. Where can you find opportunities for interpretation in service projects?