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March 10, 2011

Pro/Con: Should student service learning hours be mandatory for high school graduation?

by Claire Koenig, Print Managing Op/Ed Editor and Simrin Gupta, Print Managing Entertainment Editor
Simrin Gupta says yes: The SSL hour requirement benefits the community and encourages responsibility.

Picking up trash might not be the average teenager's idea of a fun weekend activity. But as students complete their Student Service Learning (SSL) hour requirement cleaning up the environment, they end up picking up a lot more than trash. For years, high school students have been giving back to the community through the SSL hour requirement. As a result, causes across the community have benefitted and students have taken on a new sense of responsibility. The SSL hour requirement lets students establish social partnerships while addressing recognized needs.

The purpose of SSL hours is to address community needs in a way that reinforces curriculum goals because they arm students with the knowledge, skills and attitude necessary for productivity in an increasingly diverse and interconnected world. According to the original 1997 MCPS memo, all community service action, whether it be direct or indirect, encourages career preparation and reflection.

First and foremost, the SSL hour requirement teaches students responsibility. Regardless of the type of activity they decide to pursue, students are held responsible for completing a job to the best of their ability. This sense of accountability contributes to an overarching feeling of personal responsibility. Furthermore, according to Blair Student Service Learning Coordinator Robert Hopkins, "The greatest part of SSL hours is that students learn transferable skills that can be applied to a variety of unique situations," he says.

More importantly, the SSL hour requirement prompts experiences that can form links to what students learn at school. These learning links reinforce the concepts students have been introduced to at school. Throughout elementary, middle and high school, MCPS students learn about major issues like natural disasters and ecosystem conservation, as well as societal issues like bullying prevention, nutrition and fitness. For example, a student with a particular interest in environmental science puts their knowledge to the test when they volunteer with organizations like the Seneca Creek State Park or the C&O Canal Association. Even when activism is not directly related to coursework, students learn universal lessons like the importance of helping their fellow community members when they help feed the homeless or build homes for natural disaster victims. By fulfilling this requirement, students also gain the opportunity to volunteer in fields that interest them, allowing them to experiment with possible career paths.

But perhaps the most beneficial part of the SSL hour requirement is that it gives students experience with group dynamics. When performing community service, students learn to form a cooperative team in order to accomplish their goal. They have to effectively work with members in authority positions as well. When they dedicate time to the community, students make attitudinal and behavioral strides by learning how to be productive members of society. According to Julie Ayers, a service-learning specialist for the Maryland State Department of Education, the hours students spend doing community service equip them with the knowledge and skills needed for civic engagement.
Instead of taking a more lax approach regarding the SSL hour requirement, MCPS should continue to make the hours mandatory for graduation. Though a 15-hour increase may strike some as a burden, it's 15 more hours during which students are learning skills crucial to their future success. Without the consequence of not graduating, the majority of students may not be exposed to the numerous advantages of community service work. The community benefits from students' work, and students take away experiences that enable them to live successfully.

Claire Koenig says no: Mandated community service takes away from the meaning of the experience.

What happened to asking what we can do for our country? All for one and one for all? It's a small world? Apparently, the school system feels that there isn't enough kumbaya to go around, so it has chosen to make service a part of the graduation requirement.

The Student Service Learning (SSL) obligation imposed upon high school students today is not only unfair, but unnecessary. The initiative to serve the community shouldn't have to come from fear of failing to graduate, but from a student's passions and interests.

The obvious merit of community service is not debatable - students learn to appreciate lending a hand while non-profits put those hands to good use. But the logic of forcing people to volunteer falls short when compared to the benefits students gain from the act of offering to perform community service. Schools should do all they can to encourage students to volunteer by continuing to provide opportunities in the community and rewarding students who complete an exemplary number of hours, but community service should not be required in order to achieve a high school diploma.

The merit of volunteer work stems from the fact that it is voluntary - if schools mandate that students perform community service, then projects lose value to the student participants. Many students don't feel inspired by their time serving the community so much as irritated that they were forced to do so by the school system in the same way that some children disregard good advice because it comes from their parents.

The SSL requirement can also be insulting to those that are enthusiastic about their volunteer work. These students should be proud that they can help selflessly out of intrinsic motivation, instead of feeling forced to put their hours of hard work towards an SSL requirement. The 1992 district court case Steirer v. Bethlehem Area School District highlighted this dilemma when two students dedicated to their service work appealed to the court for their diplomas after refusing to put their volunteer hours toward the community service requirement. Although the court's verdict came back against the students' plea, the message they sought to send is clear: They performed community service for good, not for graduation.

High school is a busy time - many students juggle jobs or multiple afterschool activities in addition to their schoolwork. It is unfair to those students who have obligations outside of school to keep them from graduating because of SSL hours, because some of them simply donít have the time to spare.

In some cases service hours are the barrier keeping students from graduating. Senior Riley Harris is struggling to find time for more volunteer work before graduation because previous service he has completed was not eligible for SSL hours. And junior Stephan Kostreski, who should be a senior this year, but because of his late entrance into MCPS he is missing a few core requirements that are keeping him from graduating. One of these requirements, along with credits in biology and NSL, includes ten more SSL hours.

Encouraging good work for a good cause is one thing; driving students to the good work for the sake of graduating is another.

While it is true that the required hours of service do open students to work in the community that they would not experience should the mandate be eliminated, but the SSL requirement also enforces the wrong mindset toward community service in students.

As it is, MCPS is encouraging students to do the right things for all the wrong reasons.



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  • Margaret Smith (View Email) on September 7, 2012 at 2:12 PM
    Wow!! Where do we begin on this topic! I am not against community service but I am against the concept that it has become manditory. First of all, this mandatory community service violates the constitution in so many different ways. I the school district my children attend, it is called "volunteer community service." The problem is that our children are not allowed to graduate unless they "volunteer." A true abuse of the wording. Then when our children "volunteer" it is denied because the school principle has rejected based on his feelings and beliefs.

    The second issue is that out students have so much pressure on passing that they have little time for themselves. My daughter has sacrificed time to do her "volunteer" work that was eventually denied by her school principle. For each hour that is taken away from her studies to do her "volunteer" work affects her grades. If she fails, what will the community do for her? The fact that my children are not abusing any substances or are not sexually active should be considered community service. Their appropriate behavior will save tax payers the welfare money to sustain their inappropriate behaviors.

    Even though my daughter can satisfy her community service hours, I refuse to have her complete them on the grounds of her constitutional rights. I am extremely sad that for all the hard work she has done to meet her school requirements she may be denied her right to walk across the stage. If parents and students do not become united to maintain our freedoms then we are leading to the victimization of the next generation.

    Is there anyone out there who will fight for our rights?
    • J on December 11, 2012 at 4:47 PM
      Firstly, if your child's school principal rejects your child's community service work because of his own beliefs, that is a problem with your principal, not the mandatory requirement.

      Secondly, Why should every waking hour that your children (according to you, anyway) do not use drugs or have romantic relations be counted as community service?

      Thirdly, "If she fails, what will the community do for her?" If she fails, it's the community that pays the tax dollars to fund her extra year of education.

      Fourthly, if you are the one preventing your daughter from completing her graduation requirement, you are the one preventing her from walking across the stage.

      Finally, how can you call being required to do community service "victimization"? The life lessons, increased self-esteem, sense of civic justice, and ethical responsibility by helping others through community service will prove valuable to the young adults who are "forced" to help others.
  • savanna on November 26, 2013 at 2:08 PM
    this is a big help to me for my essay.
  • Karl (View Email) on December 5, 2013 at 7:16 AM
    As a high school senior, I see this as a form of slavery at its simplest form. It not only violates the constitution, but it also represents our educational system's abuse of power. Schools should be kept to teach us, not for memorization, not for grades, and definitely not for "voluntary yet required community service". I protest against such a condescending requirement, and no matter what, I shall never subject myself to this, I would much rather drop out of high school, and I will, regardless of my grades or knowledge, because I will NOT complete my required SSL hours, with pure intent of protest against this idiotic system that I was born under.
    • Bye on November 22, 2015 at 5:33 PM
      Honey, chill
  • Dexter on December 27, 2013 at 9:14 PM
    It's just 75 hours that you can we can easily get. Stop complaining people. I agree that it's complete b.s. to be forced to volunteer, but look at it like I see it. Two kids apply for the same college, and are on the different parts of the nation. Simple, right? They get the same fantastic grades, but get this: the college has to pick between the two. They have both have a clean record, and are nice young adults. In the end, who do you think this college would pick? The kid with 0 SSL hours or the one with 75? It makes us into BETTER competitors for these colleges. It gives US the advantage. Two years ago when I moved into an MCPS school in the 2nd year of middle school, I thought it was so stupid, but now it makes sense.
  • bob on October 17, 2014 at 7:14 AM
    Enter Your Comment Here.
  • boty (View Email) on February 21, 2015 at 10:41 PM
    pa[wirhog
  • Orlando Hunt on March 10, 2015 at 1:43 PM
    Hi Hello
  • ANONYMOUS (View Email) on April 21, 2015 at 3:18 PM
    Most teenagers just lie about service so does this really matter? The more hours they add the more believable the lies get. Just lie your way to graduation like everyone else why drop out. I know the grade system is Male Bovine Manure and they would not change it but do what the other students do as I call them (STUDYTRON2000s) cheat do the homework and lie just to get the A then study on your own. I know because we do not go to school to get an education anymore we do not learn or know the material students "BS" their way to get an A. and that is how the system is, square students and sadly it might not change.
  • ok (View Email) on February 5, 2016 at 11:52 AM
    this was a lot of help
  • me (View Email) on May 19, 2016 at 3:13 PM
    i agree
  • unknown person on January 10, 2017 at 2:40 PM
    it shouldn't be a requirement to do community service. because some students don't have the time.
    • lit janet on March 9, 2017 at 11:02 AM
      yes they do student have more than enough time to do community service
    • lit janet on March 9, 2017 at 11:43 AM
      yes they do student have more than enough time to do community service
      • anonymous on April 17, 2017 at 3:37 PM
        not every student have the same time scedule. Like a person in the cheer squad or debate club or in band.
  • Lit (View Email) on January 19, 2017 at 4:12 PM
    :3
  • lit janet on March 9, 2017 at 10:59 AM
    This is very good information this could help me on my essay
  • dddd (View Email) on March 30, 2017 at 11:00 PM
    dsaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
  • anon on April 23, 2017 at 6:36 PM
    its totally possible and kids can make time. My senior year in high school i was caption of the cheer squad, in 5 different clubs, played sports year round, had a job and managed to find time to get plenty of community service hours.
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