Sixth and seventh grade students from Ridge and Valley Charter School (RVCS) went on a service learning expedition recently to the Delaware Bay. The students volunteered with the American Littoral Society and the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network. Expeditions such as this are an integral part of the RVCS curriculum.
Service Learning as Extension of Students’ Work
This service learning expedition was deeply rooted in the students’ work throughout the year. Their studies included collecting information through research, formulating opinions and arguments, identifying counter-arguments and rebuttals, understanding natural history, collecting and analyzing data, exploring culture, civilization, and how we as humans use resources, as well as fostering a growth mindset leading to a better understanding of “Who am I as a learner, and as a human being?”
Students Work Alongside Professionals
While on the overnight service learning expedition, students became citizen scientists working side by side with professionals from the American Littoral Society, whose mission is to protect marine life, protect the coastal ecosystems from harm, and to empower others to do the same. They also worked with professionals from the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network, whose mission is to conserve shorebirds and their habitats through a network of key sites across the Americas.
Tagging Horseshoe Crabs
Student scientists worked in small groups to tag horseshoe crabs over two nights. After drilling to create a small hole in the side of the horseshoe crab’s carapace or shell (the crabs don’t have nerves in the shells) students installed a white, round tag with an identification number and contact number. These are used to track the migration of the crabs from night to night and spawning season to season. It allows scientists to better understand whether crabs prefer to return to the same areas to spawn or if they move more freely up and down the eastern coast.
Measuring the Horseshoe Crab Population
As well as tagging crabs, student biologists used square meter quadrats and a measuring rope marked off in meter measurements to collect information on how many crabs are coming onto the beach during the mating season. This data, collected by a representative from the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network, will be submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in an annual report to further analyze the population of the horseshoe crabs and monitor trends in their recovery from near extinction (90% decrease in population during the 1990s and early 2000s).
Throughout this important service learning work, students also combed the beach, flipping crabs who were stuck upside down and who would otherwise likely die in the heat of the day, while scanning for previously tagged crabs, documenting their identification number, gender, and physical health, including any visible injuries. This data, too, will be submitted with the census to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Exploring the Cape May National Wildlife Refuge
Each student exemplified maturity, leadership, and professionalism during their 2-3 hour long evening service learning volunteer sessions. During the day, students and their teachers (referred to as “Guides” at RVCS) traveled to the Cape May National Wildlife Refuge on the Atlantic Ocean, just south of Wildwood Crest. Students scanned the beach for shorebirds, observing semipalmated sanderlings, semipalmated plovers, and an American oystercatcher. The students also spent some time running along Two Mile Beach, just south of the refuge, discovering horseshoe crabs buried in the sands along the high tide lines while exploring the tidal pools for shells, crabs, and a starfish.
Post Service Learning Expedition Observations
After the service learning trip, one of the students spoke about their experience in this way,
I have been challenged by stepping outside of my comfort zone and working with people that I don’t have a lot of experience with. I have learned that the people in the community and local environment are very patient and caring. I have learned that I want to do more work like this over the summer and when I’m older helping marine life and endangered species. I think the most important thing I learned is that I am making history right now and that every thing I do has an effect.
The Delaware Bay service learning expedition was not only educational, but was also an experience these students at Ridge and Valley Charter School will never forget.