Service learning project to build bluebird boxes - Photo by Gaynor Bigelbach

Service Learning: Combining Environmental Education with Community Service

Service Learning projects give children, and young adults, an opportunity to combine significant community service with instruction and reflection. NRWA Service Learning projects are designed to give the participants a deeper understanding of the issues involved in watershed conservation, and most importantly, an awareness of their own role in protecting the health of their streams, ponds, and rivers. The participants learn about the broad diversity of life that depends, like them, on clean water.

Service learning project to start a pollinator garden - Photo by Gaynor BigelbachBy encouraging participants to use their critical thinking skills to solve problems, Service Learning inspires them to take effective action. Participants learn, for example, that cavity nesting birds like the Eastern Bluebird have lost much of their habitat to development, and that a successful antidote to this has been the creation of nest box trails. They can then become part of the solution by building the nest boxes themselves and setting them on location. Participants also learn how to monitor the boxes so that they can continue their Service Learning by reporting their findings to institutions like the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Taking part in a Service Learning project can be a transformative experience. Whether they build a wheelchair accessible bridge on conservation land, make bat boxes, post turtle crossing signs, or undertake a five month vernal pool monitoring program, Service Learning students gain a wide variety of practical skills. Above all, they leave the programs with a sense of personal achievement and of truly making a difference.

The NRWA assists school and communities with many Service Learning (aligned with curricula) and community service projects. Some projects are funded through grants, but a school or group could sponsor a project.

Building an observation platform along a nature trail - Photo by Gaynor BigelbachExamples of Student Service Learning Projects

  • The Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge (ONWR) Curriculum Model Project which provided an opportunity for students to inventory invasive plants, use turtle tracking equipment, and develop a Students Field Guide to the ONWR.
  • “Service Learning in Lunenburg, MA: Fifth Graders Use Math, Science and English Language Arts While Investigating Different Ways to Address Invasive Species” provided students with an opportunity to monitor Purple Loosestrife, apply several different control techniques (including beetles), compare the techniques a year later, and then present information to the Lunenburg School Board.
  • The Ayer Community Nature Trail and Watershed Monitoring Project allowed students to survey a piece of property near the school, plan the course of a nature trail, and build the trail for the use of the entire school.
  • The Oxbow Schoolhouse in Devens studied pollination, native pollinators, and invasive species then built a pollinator garden.
  • Boy Scouts in Shirley learned about wildlife habitat and Wood Ducks, then built and erected Wood Duck nest boxes in local wetlands.
  • Children at the Lura White Elementary School in Shirley learned about Eastern Bluebirds and habitat for Bluebirds, then built and erected Bluebird nest boxes in a field near the school where they could observe the raising of Bluebird chicks.

For more information about Service Learning Projects, please contact Stacey Chilcoat, NRWA River Classroom Director, at (978) 448-0299, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..