Why Service Learning is Important

middle schoolers doing service learning beach cleanup

Service learning has always been a part of Arthur Morgan School’s 18 day field trips. Even in the school’s earliest trips, staff and students found communities that needed helping hands. The tradition continues today with the school’s current field trips. Through hard work and new relationships, our middle schoolers are gaining an understanding of why service learning is important.

What is Service Learning?

Service learning is different than community service in several ways.  Community service can happen at any time and is often a stand alone event.  When our students helped the NC High Peaks Trail Association clear trails on a Saturday, that was community service.  Service learning is bigger in scope.  When students participate in service learning they are providing much needed work, but they are also making academic connections. They examine the underlying social trends that make the work they are doing necessary. That experience leads students to think about ways to create lasting change to systemic problems.

Service Learning in Action

middle schoolers cleaning up a beachThat is exactly what the Coastal Ecology and Climate Change field trip did on the second day of their 18 day field trip.  While traveling down to Florida to learn how climate change is affecting the state’s coastline, the trip provided service work at Fort Caroline National Memorial.  Fort Caroline is in the Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve, one of the last unspoiled coastal wetlands on the Atlantic Coast. The fort is a memorial to the French who occupied that part of Florida in the sixteenth century.

The trip contacted the historical preserve while they were learning coastal ecology back at AMS. They set up plans to visit and help clean the park’s coastline.  Felicia Boyd of the National Park Service helped the group plan their service work and also organized rangers to give them a short presentation about the fort and the St. John’s River.


The fort ended up being one of the trip’s first stops.  They spent their first night with Al Geiger, a long time supporter of AMS and parent to alumni.  Al’s home is a regular stop for AMS field trips heading to Florida. They then visited Fort Caroline with trash bags and bug spray in hand.  They spent the afternoon cleaning the river’s coastline of plastic waste and talking about how plastic production is worsening climate change effects.  

What Students Learn from Service Learning

middle schoolers cleaning up a beachThe students discovered it was surprisingly windy alongside the river and were fascinated by the crabs and small frogs that came scurrying out from beneath pieces of trash. “It felt good to make a change in the world,” said Jarrah, a ninth grader. Other volunteers joined the trip in their cleanup efforts and were impressed by the hard work of our students. “They were the most awesome group of kids I’ve ever been around. They were great,” one volunteer reported.

As the trip finished up its work project for the day, they thought about ways in which coastline pollution could be reduced. Brainstorming solutions and thinking about why these problems exist is all part of what make service learning so important. The students’ experience will hopefully inspire them to think about ways to offer new solutions to these long term dilemmas.

The trip will continue their service learning as they travel across Florida. They will provide service work in Miami and Boynton Beach in the next couple weeks, all the while continuing their study of climate change’s effects on Florida’ coasts. By incorporating their work with their academic studies, these middle schoolers are sure to discover exactly why service learning is important.

-by Nicholas Maldonado