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Service-Learning at BMCC

Mary Nell Hawk, Developmental Skills

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Service learning integrates community service, instruction and reflection and teaches students from kindergarten through college to use what they learn in the classroom to solve real-life problems. It strengthens communities and teaches civic responsibility through direct action and academic instruction.


BMCC’s Service Learning Faculty/Staff Interest Group (FIG) developed an environmental stewardship plan focusing on estuarine literacy – a study of local New York City waterways.


The NY-NJ Harbor Estuary that flows both ways past BMCC's front yard is sometimes called the "sixth borough.” The Harbor offers a fascinating urban laboratory for students to learn about marine ecology, and urban history. Partnerships with marine-based community organizations and hands-on activities foster interest in and caring for the river. Sharing that knowledge with others is an important step toward responsible environmental stewardship of our region's largest public open space, its rivers and harbor.


For instance, a biology class can focus on why oysters are being re-introduced into the estuary, care for an “oyster garden” on nearby piers, or measure and record the growth of oyster spat over the semester. Students can then contribute their data to a large-scale local research project. Urbanomnibus


The threat of poor water quality troubles BMCC students and staff alike. A chemistry class can set up a water quality test site near BMCC in concert with the NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and NY Riverkeeper, Riverkeeper. Students can contribute to regional data collection, and increase understanding about how clean the waters really are.


A history class could look at the port of New York, and follow its evolution from marshy and/ rocky coastline, to a waterfront lined with the piers and bulkheads of commerce, to a new water’s edge being redesigned to accommodate changing uses and rising sea levels.


Art classes can embark on a service learning project to provide accurate illustrations of fish, birds, plankton, and micro-organisms that inhabit the river right outside of BMCC. Fish tanks maintained by The River Project at nearby Pier 40 provide “life models” of a surprising number of local species. A multi-media arts / photography / video class can incorporate finished work into public service programming to promote stewardship of the aquatic environment.


A growing body of pedagogical / andragogical literature exists on specific teaching methods to increase the success rate of Service Learning projects.


See, for example Katherine Kapustka’s research in New York City schools, at National Service Resources. For illustrations of successful projects nationwide, along with students’ journal entries, see AACC Programs Horizons.


Centers dedicated to service learning have gathered information and examples of successful projects. For example, Learn and Serve America, Learn and Serve, and the National Service Learning Clearinghouse, Clearinghouse. Searching these sites allows educators to access successes and lessons learned at a host of universities and community colleges.


If Service-Learning interests you, please drop by for any of the FIG sessions scheduled for spring 2012.