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Service at Salado

May 07, 2006
This feature is the first in a series of features highlighting the recipients of the 2006 President’s Medal for Social Embeddedness.

“It really opens their eyes to a whole new world, to a whole new environment."

– Danielle Taddy, City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation

Imagine the scene: a group of middle school students from an urban community whose only interaction with the natural environment is their schoolyard with its limited vegetation and the occasional bird. After a long day in the classroom, their behavior is hard to manage and many of them are hardly enthused about sitting for another session to learn about science of all things. But take them outside and show them the habitat restoration project that is going on in the river bed near where they live, which they may have never seen before, and their eyes light up.

In witnessing this reconstruction project of a natural habitat that is part of their community, the students with even the most difficult behavior issues magically transform into reflective thinkers and nature enthusiasts. Over time, the teachers, rangers, and ASU interns who work with them start to see their perspectives change as the students express dismay at seeing piles of trash choking the river bed. Their dismay is even greater when they realize that they have personally contributed to the problem every time they have thrown a plastic bottle on the ground instead of into a trash can.

Returning to the classroom, the students are rife with ideas about how to help out in the reconstruction of the river bed and the beautification of its surrounding parks and trails. They also desire to inform their peers of the things they are learning in this environmental education program that allows them to connect the things they learn in a very tangible way to the community in which they live. The final products of these ideas include trail maps and guides, painted trash cans, stepping stones, and other creative projects that the students decide upon themselves, create and complete, and ultimately present to their families, schools, and to the wider Phoenix community.

The program which brings about such exciting transformation and provides the students with a personal sense of connection to their communities is the Service at Salado project, which is one of this year’s recipients of the President’s Medal for Social Embeddedness. Service at Salado engages local schoolchildren in a habitat-restoration project that has become a centerpiece of their school and neighborhood communities. This partnership of ASU and the City of Phoenix’s Rio Salado Project, which began as the result of conversations among City of Phoenix representatives with Charlene Saltz and Monica Elser of ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability and Nancy Crocker of University College, has since established after-school clubs at four elementary schools in South Phoenix. Charlene observed of her experience with the project since these initial conversations, “What’s made it successful is the collaboration.”

Students from underserved and disadvantaged communities gain experience in ecology and civic involvement which is made possible through funding from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust, ASU’s University-School Partnerships, and the National Science Foundation. Students benefit through the collaborative partnerships of their schools and teachers with the ASU student interns who lead the education program. Local park rangers also develop a strong rapport with the students involved in the program as they teach them about the specifics of this restoration project . The impact on students is great – one middle school student, after seeing a video of the reconstruction work on the Rio Salado, expressed, “I can’t believe there is anything positive about where I live.” Students make a deep personal connection with work of the Rio Salado project.

The value of Service at Salado is not limited to local schoolchildren and their commun­ities; ASU under­graduates run the clubs and gain hands-on experience in establishing an environmental education program. Benefits accrue to the ASU community as these undergraduates learn to develop inquiry-based lessons, mentor schoolchildren, and communicate science to a diverse audience. Jennifer Roberts, one of the ASU student facilitators, is originally from Louisiana, and she stated of her involvement with Service at Salado, “This really made me feel part of Arizona – it forced me to learn about the region quicker.” When she returns to Louisiana, she plans to get involved in similar programs located in the coastal wetlands.

Jennifer’s positive experience in watching the students grow through the program is echoed by Danielle Taddy of the City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department, who loves watching the “kids learn to take ownership, change their habits, and then teach others.” Charlene Saltz, likewise, is passionate about the program for how it “gives kids empowerment in becoming active citizens.” Collaboration, empowerment, personal connection, ownership: these are the attributes that strengthen and build community capacity. Congratulations to Service at Salado as an inspiring example of social embeddedness in action!


ASU Team Members:

Monica Elser, Global Institute of Sustainability

Justin Goering, Global Institute of Sustainability

Jennifer Roberts, Global Institute of Sustainability

Charlene Saltz, Global Institute of Sustainability

Nancy Crocker, Academic Community Engagement Services

Adelina Zottola, Academic Community Engagement Services

Dave White, School of Community Resources and Development

Jenny Bickford, ASU Foundation, Corporate and Foundation Relations


Community Partners:

Cheryl McNab, Arizona Audubon

Danielle Taddy, City of Phoenix, Parks and Recreation Dept.

Juan Gallardo, CO Greenfield Elementary School

Deborah Banks, Innovative Tailor-Made Training & Technology

Alice Trujillo, Lowell Elementary School

Georgina Takemoto, Phoenix Elementary School District

Mark Dowling, Roosevelt Elementary School District

Sergio Gutierrez, Sunland Elementary School

John Wann, Valley View Elementary School