Service-Learning Opportunities in State Parks

What is Service-Learning?


Making paper from invasive plantsThe Education Commission of the States, in their report, Learning That Lasts: How Service-Learning Can Become an Integral Part of Schools, States and Communities, defines service-learning as “a teaching and learning approach that integrates community service with academic study to enrich learning, teach civic responsibility and strengthen communities.”

Successful service-learning programs are built around a core of standards as outlined by the National Youth Leadership Council and the National Service-Learning Cooperative.



Meaningful Service - 
Students engage in service-learning programs that are relevant and valuable to both participants and those being served.

Link to Curriculum - Service-learning is an integral part of the learning process, with direct ties to academic studies and content standards.

Reflection - Service-learning activities should provide opportunities for students to process their learning, and evaluate the effectiveness and success of the program.

Diversity - Through service-learning programs, students encounter, and gain appreciation for a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives.

Youth Voice - Students are active partners in service-learning programs, with a voice in planning, implementing, and evaluating service activities.

Partnerships - Service-learning builds partnerships between young people and the broader community that can last beyond the initial service experience.

Progress Monitoring - The progress and achievements of service-learning programs are shared with policymakers, education leaders, and others, to help sustain program support and high quality standards.

Duration and Intensity - Service-learning works best when it is conducted across sufficient periods of time, so as to fulfill project goals and the needs of those being served.


Life in the 1850's---high school docent and participantsService-Learning in State Parks
Primary, secondary, and college students participate in service-learning activities that meet important State Park needs and issues. Students develop their service activities in collaboration with teachers, community partners, and park staff. Service-learning activities have a clear connection to the California State academic content standards and to the California Career Technical Education (CTE) standards. Many service-learning projects also correlate with science and history-social science components of the California Education and the Environment Initiative (EEI). Service-learning in State Parks includes activities such as researching and developing interpretive materials, creating exhibits, or assisting with preservation/conservation work or visitor programs.

Outlined below are some of the creative and rewarding service-learning opportunities available with California State Parks.



Life in the 1850s   
William B. Ide Adobe State Historic Park 
High school student as 1850s living history docentThe Life in the 1850s program is a service-learning partnership between California State Parks, the Red Bluff Union High School District, and the Ide Adobe Interpretive Association. The program offers students the opportunity to visit William B. Ide Adobe State Historic Park and learn and teach about life in 1850s California. Students from Red Bluff and Salisbury Continuation High Schools attend over forty hours of training presented by State Parks staff. Additionally, one student from each high school sits on the Ide Adobe Interpretive Association board. Participation in the program enables students to gain familiarity with the California State Parks system, learn leadership skills, and study the language, dress, and pioneer skills of the 1850s such as rope making, blacksmithing, cooking, and woodworking. Students research and develop their individual pioneer characters. Once trained, the high school docents, in period attire, teach Life in the 1850s programs to elementary school children. The programs continue every Tuesday and Thursday from mid-February through early June. Life in the 1850s aligns with the California State content standards for history-social science and English-language arts. The program also highlights career pathways outlined in CTE Industry Sectors such as Education, Tourism and Recreation, Manufacturing, and Fashion. At the conclusion of each program, student docents discuss what worked or did not work, problem solve, and share ideas for the next program.  Life in the 1850s allows William B. Ide Adobe State Historic Park to offer quality interpretive programming, while instilling a sense of stewardship in students who become dedicated members of the park’s volunteer crew.


(Information about the Life in the 1850s program provided by Debbie Chakarun, State Park Interpreter I)


The Baldwin Hills Greenhouse Internship/Restoration Leadership Programs
Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, Kenneth Hahn SRA
Dorsey High School girls restoring native plantsBaldwin Hills Scenic Overlook is a 58 acre ecological “island” in urban Los Angeles. Although crippled by past grading activities, and invasive plants, the park is transforming back to a native habitat. The Baldwin Hills Greenhouse Internship and Restoration Leadership Programs allow local high school students the opportunity to participate in the park’s restoration efforts. These programs represent service-learning partnerships between California State Parks, Los Angeles Audubon Society and its funding partners, and Dorsey High School. The programs align with both EEI curriculum components and California State content standards for science, mathematics, and English-language arts. They also allow students to explore careers associated with the CTE Industry Sectors in Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Education. Students begin their training in the summer. Throughout the school year students assist staff by conducting much needed scientific research on native and invasive plants, and wildlife. They also aid in restoration of the area’s Coastal Sage Scrub habitat, and mentor elementary students and other volunteers during restoration events. Students have an active voice in all aspects of the program including developing self-directed projects such as making paper out of invasive species, producing informational pamphlets on pollinators of the Baldwin Hills, and constructing nests out of man-made materials to aid in restoring the park’s cactus wren population.  Their time as Greenhouse Interns and Restoration Leaders leave students with a deeper understanding of the natural environment, and an appreciation for their own service to the park and the community. 

(Information about the programs at Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook provided by Kristen Perry, State Park Interpreter I, and Stacey Vigallon, Los Angeles Audubon Society)


Shasta Miners / Stellar Living History Docents
Shasta State Historic Park
Students serving as living history docents, Shasta State Historic ParkShasta State Historic Park partners with two local schools to provide service-learning opportunities  that familiarize students with the park, and highlight early California history.  Fourth through sixth grade students of Shasta Elementary School participate in the Shasta Miners program. Students serve as living history docents as well as facilitators for the park’s school-age Gold Rush Game. The students have input as to which historic character they portray and which activities they will facilitate. Shasta Miners begin their docent studies in January and serve as Gold Rush Game facilitators with visiting school groups, every Thursday from mid-March to early June.  The Stellar Living History Docents program offers a similar service-learning experience to sixth through twelfth grade students of Stellar Charter School. Stellar students serve as docents in the park’s museum, guide tours through the cemetery, and assist with historic period crafts, games, and other activities. Like Shasta Miners, Stellar Living History students have a voice in developing their historic characters and choosing the activities for which they are responsible. The students begin their training in September. They volunteer at a park event in December and then work with visiting school groups every Friday from February through early June. Both the Shasta Miners and the Stellar Living History Docents programs address California content standards for mathematics and history-social science, as well as careers associated with the CTE standards.


(Information about Shasta Miners/Stellar Living History Docents programs provided by Lori Martin, Supervising Ranger)


California State Parks offers educators and service organizations a unique opportunity to establish service-learning projects.  Because the state park system is decentralized, interested groups should contact their local park(s) directly.  Local park phone numbers and addresses may be found through the Find a Park feature of the California State Parks website.