Service-Learning in Our Backyard

Deciduous trees create a lacy green roof in the more than 400 acres of woods and wetlands at the back of the Gordon campus, and in the adjacent Chebacco Woods. Throughout the large tract, vernal pools dot the leaf-blanketed ground, providing a habitat for rare organisms. The familiar scene recently received another title: alternative classroom. Last spring, Gordon students in four courses performed service-learning projects in the woods.

These woods are used by many as a place to walk, run, mountain bike, cross-country ski and, at Gull Pond, swim and canoe. The landscape slows the flow of water in its final journey to the sea, creating an environment that supports specialized organisms. Beavers are also present; a lodge is visible on Coy Pond.

The same land that provides peaceful trails and natural resources is also threatened by nearby human activities. Water runoff from parking lots and roads can flow into ponds and wetlands, damaging the quality of the habitat for native animals and plants.

Students in several courses had already been measuring the ponds’ water quality, but last spring, Dr. Otonye Braide-Moncoeur (chemistry) took the activity a step further. Students in her Principles of Chemistry II course measured water quality and taught local high school students about the subject. Dr. Kristen Cooper (economics) and her Environmental Economics students also examined the condition of the local landscape, working with local institutions to conduct an economic analysis of policies to reduce dog waste in Chebacco Woods.

Another problem that plagues the woods is the expansion of several invasive non-native plant species. Erosion is also a concern because it can dismantle trails and habitats. Both issues were addressed by students in two courses: Ecology, and The Scientific Enterprise. With Dr. Dorothy BoorseDr. Jennifer Noseworthy (biology) and local groups, they performed trail maintenance removed invasive plant in the woods and other parts of Gordon’s property.

The program was made by possible by a grant from the Davis Educational Foundation. The $168,000 grant was shared by selected New England members of the nonprofit organization Campus Compact. At Gordon, faculty and students completed surveys before and after the project to assess its effectiveness. Students reported on their service projects at the Undergraduate Research Symposium in April.

Community partners included: Manchester Department of Public Works, Town of Wenham, Wenham Department of Public Works (including Bill Tyack of the Wenham DPW), and Covenant Christian School (including chemistry teacher Kelly Story, wife of Gordon’s own Craig Story). Special thanks to: Andover resident Don Cooper and Gordon’s head of grounds Alton Bynum and his crew.

By Morgan Clayton ’19, history