The educational value of volunteering

Before starting at Coastkeeper, I spent a few years as a teacher. From 3rd-12th grade, teaching science is frequently an uphill battle. Sadly, the majority of students in middle and high school simply don’t have any connection to science. Without any reason to care about science, it’s incredibly difficult for students to engage.

Hands-on learning became critical for my students. Turning science into something that they can see, do, touch, or even change made a remarkable impact on their subject comprehension.

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San Diego Coastkeeper frequently works with teachers and students in an attempt to bring science to life. Some teachers encourage students to attend a beach cleanup or Water Quality Monitoring training to get them invested through service learning. A few weeks ago, I worked with a group from North County High Tech High during their intersession. Leading a class focused on ocean issues and topics, teachers brought their class to La Jolla Shores for a morning of service learning.

La Jolla Shores is special to our San Diego coastline. Set along an Area of Special Biological Significance and the Matlahuyal marine protected area (MPA), the water quality, marine life, and habitat are incredibly important to protect. Pressures from human activity, both on and offshore, can pose threats to these coastal resources. High Tech High students had the chance this week to do their part in protecting them, but also learn more about why they’re so important.

Along the coast, students worked in groups to collect marine debris and document activity within the MPA. Testing out the web-based app developed by UCSD, students recorded observations of human activity, helping Coastkeeper and other groups in San Diego identify trends in human use and potentially effectiveness of MPA regulations. While students learned about MPAs, they were able to take an active part in their assessment, contributing to science and policy that impacts us here in San Diego.

Volunteering  helped make our coastline a little cleaner, but let students see where runoff goes, actually count how many pollutants we’re producing and think about their impacts, while seeing an actual change in their environment. By making a positive impact in their community, science and environmental issues become a little more personal. For so many students, that connection is what drives their passion in science and I am thrilled to help them find it through service learning activities.

Another group set out on a “Pollution Patrol” of La Jolla Shores, sweeping nearly every street west of La Jolla Shores Drive and identifying potential pollution issues. Their biggest concern? Cigarette butts. In just an hour, students collected over 665 cigarette butts from the area, with most found in streets near stores. Students that morning were shocked by what they were finding in an area San Diegan’s value for its pristine beauty and ecological structure.

If you are interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities for students in San Diego, please contact volunteer@sdcoastkeeper.org for more information.

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