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Case Study 5: Working with Volunteers

At Chicago Botanic Garden U.S.A, we have developed a comprehensive programme to train volunteers to deliver our Environmental Education Awareness Programme. The Junior League of Evanston/North Shore, a service organisation dedicated to community improvement through active volunteering, was involved in the initial conceptualisation of the training programme. The JNLE/NS continues to assist with programme implementation and programme funding.

There is no formal selection procedure. Any interested and motivated person is invited to join the programme. The training is rigorous and requires a high level of commitment and enthusiasm on the part of volunteers. Two permanent staff members are involved in the training of volunteers. This requires 10 to 25% of working time depending on the precise responsibilities involved.

The training programme includes:

  • job descriptions for volunteers
  • monthly meetings to discuss the content, concepts, and activities of the program
  • instructional workshops and practice teaching sessions which encourage all volunteers to improve their teaching skills
  • participation in three in-service teacher workshops conducted by the programme co-ordinator for the participating classroom teachers
  • a sequence of supervised teaching experiences in the classroom and in the field.

Under the supervision of the programme co-ordinator, each volunteer gradually assumes full responsibility for the teaching of the programme. By completing the first year requirements, volunteers accrue points that lead to one of three levels of certification. With the approval of a committee, certification enables volunteers to deliver the programme - either as an assistant or full facilitator - beginning in their second year of service.

In the following year, training continues to encourage volunteers to increase their understanding of the programme content and to develop their teaching skills.

By training and working with volunteers, a botanic garden can extend the reach of its environmental education efforts into more classrooms than would otherwise be possible.