For the past two years, Mears students have been able to actively contribute to the community thanks to its partnerships with Alaska Geographic and various public land agencies. Alaska Geographic has coordinated and funded extensive service learning opportunities between Mears students and public land agencies including Chugach National Forest, Chugach State Park, and the MOA Department of Parks and Recreation.
The partnership between all of these agencies started as a casual conversation between Amanda Smith from Alaska Geographic and Cyndy Holderith, a Mears teacher. The ultimate goal was to take all Mears seventh-grade students to public lands for a day of service, where they would improve trails and areas affected by invasive weeds and insects. To prepare students for this work, Alaska Geographic coordinated guest speakers who visited science classrooms and taught students about the effects of the Spruce Bark Beetle and other invasive insects and plants in Alaska, trail etiquette, proper tool use for trail maintenance, and how to dress for the weather. These lessons, and the hands-on work that followed, helped students master Alaska science and geography standards, while at the same time improving our community. The public lands agencies received hundreds of trained, willing helpers to improve areas affected by invasive weeds and beetles. In addition to arranging speakes, Alaska Geographic also helped finance transportation to the local parks.
On the national level, rangers from the Chugach National Forest in-serviced students before taking them to Girdwood and the Portage Valley. Students spent time making trail improvements in these areas by putting down new gravel and cutting back alders. While in the field, they were instructed on the natural history and environmental uniqueness of this area. After their work in the Portage Valley, students were able to see Portage Lake and Portage Glacier. For some students, this was the first time they has ever seen a glacier.
On the state level, Chugach State Park employee, Gina Javurek-Smith, created a geocaching course about the Iditarod Trail and taught students how to use a GPS for orienteering. Students then had the opportunity to find the hidden geocaches, from which they learned several historical facts about the Iditarod. Her time and expertise was invaluable. In addition to this project, students also worked with state park officials to add new signage along the McHugh Creek Trail, and pull invasive weeds from the Alpenglow area.
On the municipal level, Scott Stringer, Municipal Forester, provided educational support and service projects for Mears students at two local parks. Students removed invasive Bird Cherry from the trail system in Valley of the Moon Park, and beetle killed spruce from Far North Bicentennial Park.
Mears’ teachers plan to complete a public lands service-learning project with their seventh-graders every year in order to get them outside where they can simultaneously learn and contribute to their community. Students are able to help meet immediate needs on our public lands, while at the same time fostering a desire to be involved in the future. With the support of Alaska Geographic and all the public lands partners, students have received a unique learning experience that will stay with them for a lifetime.
Here’s a short film about the project.