Laurel Clark, Dumbarton Oaks Conservancy

My name is Laurel Clark and I am double major in Environmental Studies and Public Relations and Strategic Communication. The volunteer work that I am doing at the Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy with the after-school environmental education program is connected to my Environmental Science class (ENVS-260-003). My role as a volunteer is to aid Alisha Camacho with her lesson plans and activities.

Recently we had the students draw two pictures of an area in Washington D.C., such as the Potomac River, one picture including natural resources such as trees and large bodies of water and another absent of all natural resources. This activity encourages conversation about the importance of our environment and what feelings are prompted when those areas become desolate, which the students have realized is becoming a reality that they must not only face, but also figure out how to change through innovative solutions.

Often times, the activities are discussion based so the students can share their ideas and engage in meaningful conversations that teach them about the importance of perspective and respect for ideas that may diverge from their own. I expected to meet a group of children who had a basic understanding of their fragile and endangered environment. I also expected to further my own teaching skills. Not only have the students shown me that they are connected to their environment; they have shown me in subtle ways—whether through short conversations I overhear or comments aimed directly at me—that they recognize and appreciate the intricate relationship between the natural environment and the strength of their communities.

I have learned how to teach and plan an effective lesson that puts forth the idea that we may not know how important our environmental resources are until they are gone, as well as how to listen. My lesson plan was centered on the vitality of community gardens and the constant threat they are under, especially when the land is not protected by the state. The students then began talking amongst themselves asking why people wanted to replace a garden with warehouses as the garden provided the community with food and a sense of purpose. They not only questioned why the land wasn’t seen as valuable by developers, but also what could be done to stop this land removal from happening in the future. They then drew their own perfect parks and worked on including the benefits they believe to be integral to any open green space. Before this happened, a debate took place between one student and three others, the one student believed that TV’s may have a place in the park because it could help people stay informed as they would have easy access to the news. The other students challenged him and maintained that the TV would distract visitors from their surroundings and would decrease the amount of time they spent interacting with and enjoying the natural world. It is these conversations that the students have, the ones about clean water and the right to trees, and the debates they have over what makes a community strong that gives me faith that the coming generation will be able to conjure up a solution to the growing problems presented by climate change.

This volunteer work relates directly back to my class in many ways. One of the units we focused on was water pollution, which was a theme discussed in one of the lessons when the students were tasked with figuring out how water becomes polluted and what measures need to be taken to clean that water. The biggest takeaway that I have is that education is truly the means by which we will be able to recognize the mistakes we have made, the harm we have done to our environment and, by extension, to each other, and move forward with bright new ideas in hand and a troop of leaders and followers in tow.

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