Being Engaged with Youth through Service-Learning and Volunteerism
Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Youth Service Learning
Hyre Service Learning Project
NPS COLLECTION

Quick Facts

GETTING READY FOR 2016:

A Call to Action
Action Item:
Step by Step
Year Accomplished:
2013

The park launched a volunteer liaison/service-learning coordinator position in the fall of 2010. From January 2011 to June of 2012, Park Ranger Josh Bates successfully launched a new program that engaged middle school-to-college aged youth in the park, age groups that were underserved by other park programs. Josh designed program formats, formed relations with partner schools, managed complicated program logistics, and skillfully engaged youth in the programs. During the launch of the program, Ranger Josh worked with 1547 students and 344 adults with an average of seven contact hours each. Through his program, he engaged students in learning and stewardship through the removal of invasive plants, creating butterfly gardens, building a hoop house, and planting trees.  

Josh uses a problem-based learning process to design service learning experiences in the park. It starts, whenever possible, with students helping define the problem that they wish to study. Then through hands-on experiences in the park, the students do their own research; have multiple contacts with park staff which includes biologists, engineers, and park rangers; generate and use park data; and apply knowledge through a service project. As the facilitator of the learner-centered experience the rangers provide experiences and reflection time that allow participants to make their own intellectual and emotional connections. Many of the participants are new to the park and many come from under-served communities. We find that they become comfortable in the park environment with Josh's support, become emotionally connected to the need to solve the problem, and gain a sense of accomplishment in completing the service component of the project. It gives them an opportunity to think beyond themselves in how they can contribute to the greater ecosystem.  

This program significantly advances the practice of interpretation and education by demonstrating how project-based service learning creates deep and highly engaging park experiences. Each program also involves a high level of creativity. Josh works flexibly as a facilitator with the teachers and students to identity problems and design projects connected with their classroom curriculum. One example of creativity is how Josh frames the problem with students. He may be with the students and stage a "distress call" from the park about a resource management issue, such as invasives, where the park needs help. This activity engages the students to try and help Ranger Josh and the park. It becomes the students' idea to help the park instead of the teacher presenting a "field trip," giving the students a sense of ownership of the project and solving the problem.  

By researching best practices and piloting programs, Josh developed effective methods for engaging students through problem-based service learning. One of the most important aspects of problem-based service learning is cultivating relationships with the schools to understand their curriculum goals to work together to define the problem to explore. Many schools repeat visits during the school year. Schools also commit to the program by providing transportation and meals for students, something that does not always occur for traditional field trip programs.  

The program is an ongoing priority for the division of Interpretation, Education & Visitor Services to continue in FY13 and beyond. The program gives an opportunity for students to gain a sense of ownership and stewardship when contributing to improving park resources while learning about the park through their project. Students and teachers return to the park and bring their family and friends to show them what they have done, whether increasing habitat through invasive management or creating butterly garden. They have moved from being a passive first-time visitor to a fully engaged participant in protecting the park's resources.  

For more information about the park's Service-Learning program contact Park Ranger Josh Bates at 330-657-2982 or josh_bates@nps.gov