Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Mutual Benefits

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Mutual Benefits

Article excerpt

Both sides see advantages of service-learning partnerships between agencies and students.

Meeting Volunteerism and Internships Halfway

Service learning is an experiential teaching technique that provides students a chance to reinforce and build on classroom lessons while applying their efforts to socially meaningful projects. In her book, Service Learning in Higher Education, Susan Jacoby defines service learning as "a form of experiential education in which students engage in activities that address human and community needs together with structured opportunities intentionally designed to promote student learning and development."

How does service learning differ from volunteerism or internships? Volunteerism typically provides the most benefits to sponsors of a project such as, parks, recreation departments or non-profit organizations. Volunteer projects are service-based. In contrast, internships provide the most benefit to the intern and the main focus is on providing a learning opportunity.

Service learning exists in the middle of these two concepts and is designed to offer roughly equal benefits to both project sponsors and students.

This concept is becoming increasingly popular as it is implemented more often at the middle school, high school and university levels. For example, the Corporation for National and Community Service reported that in 1984 only nine percent of public schools offered service-learning opportunities. In 1999, a survey conducted by the Department of Education found that 46 percent of public high schools and 38 percent of public middle schools offered service-learning opportunities. Also, service-learning courses are being offered with increasing frequency at universities and college. For example, the Vermont Campus Compact, a consortium of 22 college and university campuses, reports that the number of service-learning classes in the state has jumped 500 percent since 1999.

Service Learning in Parks

Service learning provides many benefits to both student and parks (or other community partners). Students gain real-life experience related to lessons taught to them in the classroom. They get to see first-hand the challenges facing parks and can interact with professionals in the field in which they may eventually work. At the same time, parks that sponsor service-learning opportunities benefit by receiving assistance with projects that might otherwise go unfulfilled, while helping to prepare potential employees. In addition, parks may benefit from relationships built with organizations and community members during service-learning projects. A recent service-learning project illustrating some of these benefits involved students enrolled in a recreation course at the University of Vermont and personnel from Vermont's Elmore State Park.

Staff at Elmore State Park designed a project in which students were able to provide valuable service to the park and interact with the park staff on a variety of levels. Students helped repaint buildings, performed park maintenance and reconditioned signage. The students even participated in a real-life search and rescue effort to find two missing hikers-an unplanned, yet invaluable piece of the project. Student participants were exposed to customer service interactions at the park's entrance station, patrols with park managers and a discussion on visitor programming within the park. Also, students and park staff had the opportunity to informally discuss their backgrounds and aspirations around a campfire after completing a day filled with service projects.

To help make connections between their service experience in Elmore State Park, class lessons and their lives, students were asked to participate in several forms of critical reflection. They participated in group discussions and wrote papers exploring the above connections.

Student opinions about the service-learning project were positive in the reflective exercises, illustrating that the project enhanced the students' learning experience. …

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