Outdoor Education

Service Learning at Wilderness Adventures

By Wilderness Adventures February 28, 2023
Playing in Costa Rica

At Wilderness Adventures, we believe strongly in the value of service learning. Service learning programs are a great way to gain skills and knowledge in real-world settings. They help students develop important leadership, communication, and problem-solving skills. These opportunities help students gain a sense of purpose and meaning, all while making a positive impact in the communities that our programs visit.

However, not all service learning opportunities are created equal, so we design these programs thoughtfully. First and foremost, the projects must align with our mission of leadership, community, and the natural world. We believe that leadership is an essential skill that can be developed through group work, so we look for projects that offer opportunities for students to practice communication, group decision making, active listening, and other leadership skills.

We also prioritize projects that benefit the community we are working with. This can range from rebuilding a septic system in a town in Costa Rica to restoring cultural heritage sites in Hawaii. Additionally, many of our projects have an environmental impact, such as removing invasive mangroves on the Paepae o He’eia fishpond, which not only restored a culturally significant site, but also helped to bolster the native ecosystem.

We believe that partnerships are crucial to the success of our service learning projects. We work closely with local partners to ensure that the work we are doing is helpful and impactful, and we recognize that these partnerships are reciprocal, as our groups provide service and labor, but also gain valuable education and enrichment from the experience.

We are realistic about the impact of our service learning projects and understand that a few days of work will not necessarily make a drastic change. However, when several of our groups contribute to a project over months and years, it can add up, as seen in the He’eia estuary and the septic system in Costa Rica.

Context is also important. Before each project, we provide students with an orientation that establishes goals, provides background for why the work is important, sets expectations for their behavior, and builds relationships with the community members they will be working with. After the project, volunteer partners and/or trip leaders debrief with the group to encourage reflection. They are encouraged to ponder why their work was important, the overarching context that led to the problems being resolved, the lessons they will take away from the experience, as well as how they can continue similar work in their home communities.

Service learning is a valuable educational tool that provides students with the opportunity to develop important skills and make a positive impact in their communities. Our organization chooses projects that align with our mission of leadership, community, and the natural world, and we prioritize partnerships with local organizations to ensure that our work is helpful and impactful. Through orientation and reflection, we strive to provide students with a meaningful and enriching experience.