While best known for field trips and summer camps, the education team at the Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary (RDAC) also delivers a special program for Santa Fe youth to give back to their community. Service learning programs combine hands-on, project-based learning with outdoor experience. Projects can last for a few hours, up to multiple visits per year, with tasks ranging from landscaping and pulling up invasive species, to trail restoration and acequia cleaning.
This spring, we are hosting a remarkable group of students who have demonstrated perseverance, critical thinking, and teamwork. Every Friday, fourteen students from The Masters Program, an early college charter high school, have been visiting the Center to complete upgrades on our bird blind and restore the terrace gardens.
To develop their project management skills, students created a materials list and budget, and called local hardware stores to ask for donations. With limited success, students decided to host a bake sale to raise the remaining funds for their materials. In early March, the students proudly reported that they raised over $180.
The problem-solving and interpersonal skills that the students have demonstrated reveals the known success of service learning. “I enjoy working in the garden, taking the fence down. I’ve never done that before, but mostly, we’ve learned how to work together as a group, how to be efficient with our time,” says Ivy, a senior. “Working with a group of people who are invested in the project has been really enjoyable, and the work we’re doing—that outdoor, more practical work—instead of the in-class theory, has been rewarding,” Forest adds. For non-traditional learners, getting hands-on experience with skills that benefit their futures is invaluable. Anastacia, a junior, states “Since I’m going into nursing, it’s going to be busy and I’m going to have to be around a lot of people, so I have to learn how to work with that. Working at a fast pace.”
The work is physical, but the students enjoy being outdoors. They have built a relationship with this place, its trails, land, and wildlife. “I like being outside all the time, walking through the snow, walking through the mud, it’s a lot of fun. Being able to see the birds, the tracks of different animals, and their droppings everyday… that’s pretty cool,” adds Anastacia.
Joel Stone, The Masters Program teacher, created this Wildlife Habitat Conservation service group with the big picture in mind, “It is a dire time we live in as teachers and conservationists, and there is a real need for adults and students of all ages to get to work. I firmly believe we have to do something about protecting these lands. Furthermore, we have to care for and provide for the education of the next generation. But they're not too happy about the slew of problems they're being handed, though they are willing to try to do something about it regardless. That is why we do conservation service learning projects every week, for wildlife sanctuaries like RDAC. It is a true treasure of Santa Fe and beyond.”
Throughout these projects, Audubon staff have been delighted by the students’ engagement, drive, and initiative. The groups are still working to complete the projects by their late April deadline. When construction finishes at the Henderson Pavilion, we invite visitors to come explore the bird blind, featuring a forest mural, benches, shelves, shade, and bird ID guides. Our terrace gardens will be sowed later this spring, highlighting native and medicinal plants, as well as edible crops of the region.