Service Learning in Full Bloom

Friday, April 19, 2013

by Ana Ozuna

The IRSC Service-Learning program is in full bloom semester at Indian River State College in the English Communication and Modern Languages Department this Spring. Dr. Ozuna designed and taught a new interdisciplinary SPN 1120 Service-Learning course that integrated Spanish language proficiency, STEM, and critical environmental issues with service-learning. The Spanish language component of the course featured a communicative approach that focused on the development of basic language proficiency through the thematic exploration of grammar, vocabulary and the diverse cultures of the Spanish-speaking world. The service-learning section bridged the classroom language learning experience and the local natural environment with the support of IRSC’s community partners, Heathcote Botanical Gardens and the Oxbow Eco-Center. These local educational and recreational green spaces are dedicated to preserving the natural environment and promoting environmental advocacy to the general public. The Heathcote Botanical Gardens located in Fort Pierce features a number of specialty gardens including a Japanese Garden, Reflection Garden, Herb Garden, Rainforest Display, Native Plants Garden and a Palm & Cycad Walk. The Oxbow Eco-Center is one of 27 regional preserves situated on 225-acre preserve on the North Fork of St. Lucie River.

After completing specialized training at the beginning of the semester, service-learning (SL) students began their “green” endeavors and gained valuable academic and professional experience while completing their service projects at both locations. Throughout the semester, SL students particularly enhanced their general knowledge of botany, ecology, and local fauna and flora as they executed horticultural and administrative tasks; and served as support staff during educational programs and promotional activities. Week-by-week, SL students gleamed with enthusiasm and openly shared personal anecdotes related to their service projects.

In addition to completing service hours at the Heathcote or the Oxbow, SL students also attended Bi-lingual Encuentros lead and developed by Dr. Ozuna. During these student-centered seminars, SL Spanish language and IRSC English as a Second Language students, native Spanish speakers from various Latin American and Spanish Caribbean countries, convened at the Blackburn Educational Building to discuss environmental issues and green practices in both Spanish and English. The room buzzed with enthusiasm as students discussed their personal greening efforts and local environmental concerns. Native Spanish speakers also shared disconcerting environmental issues pertinent to their native countries including climate change, water quality, waste removal, and deforestation among other pressing environmental concerns. Serving as human dictionaries, students jovially completed fast paced, interactive, bilingual language activities as they cooperatively expanded their awareness of local and international environmental issues; expanded their lexical knowledge of environmental and conservation terminology; and enhanced their listening comprehension and speaking skills in their target language. ESL Department Chairperson, Judy Martin Hall expressed her appreciation to Dr. Ozuna for “weaving STEM + competency of Conservation and Green Practices into the conversations” and giving IRSC students the opportunity to collaborate with one another.

A bilingual hike at the Oxbow Eco-Center culminated the Service Learning component of the SL course on Saturday, April 6. Education Coordinator and Naturalist, Amanda Thompson and Dr. Ozuna organized the event with the dual intention of drawing in Spanish speakers from the local community and also providing Spanish language learners the opportunity to learn environmental terms in their target language, Spanish. Prior to the hike, Dr. Ozuna reviewed Spanish vocabulary terms of the wildlife, fauna and flora native to the Oxbow with over 30 IRSC students and family members. Mrs. Thompson and Dr. Ozuna lead part of group while volunteer, Norman Jacques and Service Learning Coordinator, Veronica Tempone led the other half of the group on a different trail. Assistant Professor, Lori Fry also attended and assisted students during the interpretive hike.

Reflection papers indicate that students thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to spend time outdoors with other students, family, and friends while learning about the fauna and flora of the “real Florida” in Spanish.  A SPN 1121, student enthusiastically expressed her delight and appreciation of the natural environment in her reflection paper:

We had a great opportunity to walk in the wild nature, to breathe fresh air, catch some sunlight and enjoy beautiful views of Florida nature. It’s hard to find anything more relaxing than listening to bird songs and the sounds of running water in the river […]

Although the semester has come to an end, SL students will continue to benefit from their service-learning experiences. Studies demonstrate that service-learning increases self-efficacy, civic engagement, academic achievement, ability to work in collaboration, and yield other positive developmental benefits. Hence, this semester represents the beginning of a more fulfilling and meaningful life for SL students.

 

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