Department of Public Works
Generation Earth for Teachers: Environmental Education and Resources in Los Angeles County


Sarah Utley
Biology/Environmental Science Teacher

Six years ago, I was sitting exactly where you are. I attended my first Generation Earth service learning workshop on the recommendation of a fellow teacher. At that point, I had never heard of service learning or Generation Earth. After my training session with Generation Earth, I was ready to organize and implement my first service learning project: a school-wide recycling program. I knew I wanted my first project to occur in my Life Science class, but I was still nervous to begin. Using the lesson plans included in the Teacher Action Guide, the class soon was excited about designing a recycling program for the entire high school.

Shortly after beginning this project, I realized a very important fact: do not bite off more than you can chew the first year! A service learning project does not have to take an entire semester; it does not have to change the entire world; it does not have to be implemented all at once. As it turned out, the first year my students wrote and directed a short persuasive video to convince the administration of the need for a school-wide recycling program. The second year, my students collected student signatures on an informative petition that was presented to the Board of Education to get their support for this program. It was not until the third year of this project that the school-wide recycling program was actually up and running! My point of writing this to you is this: don't get discouraged. It doesn't have to happen overnight.

The changes that I saw in my students from each of these first three years were remarkable. Kids that had ditched daily now had near perfect attendance because they were responsible for a certain part of the project. Irresponsible students who frequently lost their school textbooks and their homework checked out and were responsible for expensive video equipment from the audiovisual department. Students who never said a peep in class were volunteering to speak before the school's administrative team. It is amazing how the student voice and student responsibility that come from a service learning project empower the students!

Six years later, I am the Service Learning Advocate for my high school. My students complete several projects a year: some of them long-term and some of them lasting only a day or two. But the level of participation from each student and the ownership that each student takes in these projects makes the learning effects last for a long, long time.

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