Dear Service-Learning Community,

Endings are just new beginnings, or so the saying goes. There's certainly some truth to this statement, but the pain of ending is still real. As I write this, our last newsletter, it's sinking in just how much I will miss this work and the wonderful people who share a passion for service-learning as a way to engage young people in meaningful and even profound experiences.

When my colleague Ande England and I started this enterprise in January 1997, we set out with the knowledge that we might not be around long enough to make service-learning a common experience for all Texas students but that we'd do our best nonetheless. Fifteen years later we've come to the end of the road, but not before involving over 1.2 million students in thoughtful service and meaningful learning.

I am filled with gratitude that this journey lasted so long and including so many wonderful people doing extraordinary work, including co-workers, teachers, program coordinators, principals, superintendents, parents, partners, and, most importantly, students. Thank you for your many contributions to Service Learning Texas, which we always envisioned as something much greater than an office in Austin.

With your help, service-learning will continue to prosper and grow in Texas and elsewhere. As you'll read below, other organizations are stepping up to support this innovative teaching and learning strategy in new and creative ways. Resources still exist to help fund service-learning activities. A national service-learning conference will take place in Houston in October. And, as ever, students of all ages and abilities are eager to make a difference in the world, and teachers are in the perfect position to help them realize their dreams.

I encourage you to look to each other as resources, to ask young people for their input and ideas and allow them to learn from their experience, to seek partners who share your commitment and vision, to celebrate your success, and to know that service-learning is in good hands thanks to all of our efforts.

All the best,

Signature of John Spence

Service Learning Texas

Youth Leading Through Service

Healthy Habitats

Texas is one of the most ecologically diverse states in the union. However, with a population that is expected to double from 2000 to 2050, habitat loss, invasive species, and increasing water demands are just a few of the many threats and challenges to the state that can endanger the life and health of wildlife habitats and the purity of our natural resources.

Through a partnership with Encana Oil & Gas (USA), Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc. (Esri), Texas Stream Team, and Service Learning Texas, students in grades 5-12 worked to improve and restore the natural environment of our great state from 2009 through 2012. The Texas Healthy Habitats program provided the opportunity for young people to engage in service-learning while working on critical habitat issues identified in the Texas Conservation Action Plan, a proactive strategy developed by experts from the agency, universities, and conservation organizations to address critical habitats, protect biodiversity, and prevent at-risk species from becoming threatened or endangered.

A successful project: 

  • made use of educational resources of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and/or other environmental organizations to determine the specific environmental need in your geographical area and provide on-going support; 
  • incorporated recommendations of the Texas Conservation Action Plan along with its guiding Land and Water Resources Conservation and Recreation Plan in offering opportunities for youth to improve habitat in their own communities in accordance with these guiding strategies;
  • engaged students in the design of the project to improve and restore the natural environment; and
  • utilized service-learning based on the LEADERS model of service-learning and the K-12 quality standards (meaningful service, curriculum integration, reflective practice, diversity, youth voice, partnerships, progress monitoring, and duration and intensity).

Students at each site researched and defined a local environmental issue, investigated public and organizational policies related to this issue, designed a plan and took action in collaboration with at least two community partners. This included staff of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department or other organizations and/or individuals with expertise on local and regional environmental issues. Students evaluated and publicized results by conducting live presentations to public officials and community members and by developing web profiles of their work that were be integrated into the SLT website and the Healthy Habitats Facebook page.