Thoughtful Parenting: Participating in a service learning program |

Thoughtful Parenting: Participating in a service learning program

What is service learning, you may ask?

Service learning is a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility and strengthen communities (National Service Learning Clearinghouse).

Middle school students are curious by nature and trying to figure out where they fit into this community. They are too young to vote or drive a car but they aren’t too young to feel valued and feel that their actions can contribute to a greater goal. Rocky Mountain Youth Corps operates the Service Learning Corps, a summer program where youth have an opportunity to give back to the community that nurtures them.

Reflection is a huge part of the program. Participants are asked to answer the following questions before each project starts.

• Who am I volunteering my time for? This answer is pretty straight forward and recognizes partnering organizations that project are done for.

• Who will benefit from my service? This is more of an abstract question where the answers may vary depending on the project. For example, cleaning up Iron Springs Park on the north end of town will benefit wildlife (ducks that hang out in the park), tourists who want to have a picnic and enjoy the walking springs tour, bikers and runners along the Core Trail and tubers who are enjoying a sunny day on the Yampa River.

Participants gain a sense that they can make a difference in their community and that their behaviors are valued by so many aspects of the community/environment.

When Service Learning Corps participants were asked which project made the biggest impact on the needs of our community/environment, they replied with the Yampa River State Park median project, cleaning or picking up trash in the downtown Steamboat area and watering, measuring and evaluating ReTree plantings on the Core Trail, Stagecoach State Park and Mt. Werner. These are just a few examples of the projects that program participants complete while gaining self-pride and community ownership.

When participants were asked to reflect on their experience, this is what they had to say:

• “I liked how I helped out the community because it made me feel accomplished.”

• “I enjoyed gaining a sense of responsibility for how to keep our community clean.”

• “I liked working my hardest, because it was hard but felt good.”

• “I liked that I made many new friends.”

• “I will remember helping people and places especially the Re-Tree because I can watch them grow over the years.”

There are many studies that show the positive impact of youth spending time outdoors. It is beneficial to their healthy physical and emotional development (Last Child in the Woods).

For example, President Obama recently passed an Every Kid in a Park initiative were all families with a fourth-grader in 2015-16 will get a National Parks Pass free for a year. Encouraging programs that give youth the opportunity to see nature in a progressive way can help to shape their views for the rest of their life.

Service Learning Corps members learn that working hard together as a team to make our community a great place to live can be fun and rewarding.

Jaiya Ellis is the education and program manager at Rocky Mountain Youth Corps and has a passion for engaging youth in a meaningful experience in the outdoors. If you are interested in engaging your sixth- to ninth-grader, or supporting Service Learning Corps, visit Rocky Mountain Youth Corps is a member of the Routt County Youth Services Coalition, whose website can be found at

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