Eleven SUNY Oneonta students and two faculty members are in New Orleans this week for a wetlands restoration service-learning project in the Lower 9th Ward.
Accompanied by Wendy Lascell, assistant professor of geography, and Anita Levine, assistant professor of elementary education and reading, the students arrived in New Orleans yesterday and will return on March 7. They are documenting their trip on a Facebook page.
Working with a nonprofit organization called Common Ground Relief, the students will plant grasses and cypress trees in coastal areas imperiled by hurricanes, development and engineering projects that have eroded land and endangered wildlife.
The trip offers a valuable opportunity for students interested in working in wetlands restoration to gain field experience. But some of the most powerful learning may happen through their personal interactions, Lascell said. “I’ve seen it before. When students are immersed in this kind of environment that’s so different from their own, they have life-changing experiences.”
Cultural immersion is a big part of the trip. The group will work side-by-side with high school students from the Lower 9th Ward and with members of the Los Islenos native community to harvest palmetto leaves and build thatch roofs on a community center.
“Service learning is, by definition, academic in nature,” said Lascell. “It’s not just volunteering. The idea of service learning is that it’s a reciprocal relationship, so we help, but we’re also learning from the local community. That back-and-forth interaction is really important. It’s not a white knight coming to the rescue. It’s people working together.”
During reflection sessions throughout the week, the students will discuss their experiences and what they mean, both personally and for the greater community. When they return to Oneonta, they will collaborate on a photographic documentary that will be displayed on campus.
The project is supported by a Domestic Intercultural Immersion Grant offered through SUNY Oneonta’s StAR (Strategic Allocation of Resources) program.