SSL Hours: Mission Alteration?

June 20, 2005, midnight | By Henry Loeb | 15 years, 7 months ago

MCPS's new rule about learning hours does a disservice to students

According to the Montgomery County Public Schools website, effective July 1, Student Service Learning hours will no longer be awarded to students participating with for-profit licensed childcare centers or for-profit camps. The only SSL hours accepted must be performed with non-profit organizations. This counter-productive measure is sure to have an impact on volunteerism in the community.

First of all, the purpose of SSL hours is twofold: to benefit the community and to encourage the students to develop a sense of social responsibility. Restricting the opportunities for such volunteer work makes it more difficult for students to become meaningfully involved in their communities. It also implies that the most valuable experiences in activism can occur only in non-profit organizations. This is clearly not accurate.

Second, the message the county should not be sending is that these hours are intended to provide unpaid labor for non-profit organizations. The result could be to discourage students from performing community service because it would seem more like work than service.

Third, students frequently choose to volunteer at camps, hospitals, nursing homes, and veterinary clinics, which are for profit. By working in these "businesses," students may discover that they have an aptitude for a particular career. In addition, the experience of working in an environment that depends on the bottom line helps to foster the development of a realistic work ethic.

Some opportunities previously available will now be lost to the students. For example, students who volunteer at horse farms in Montgomery County will no longer receive credit for cleaning stables, teaching children how to ride or assisting in summer camp. Nor will credit be awarded to students who might work at Sheridan Mountain Camp. This camp, along with others like it, is designed to challenge young people: to provide experiential education, to promote community and to break down social barriers. Unfortunately, it is also run for profit.

Other students who want to test their ability to deal with older people may choose to work at nursing homes. One prominent local institution is Sligo Adventist Nursing Home on Carroll Avenue, which provides assisted living facilities for patients with physical disabilities or dementia. The experience of working with the elderly is invaluable to teenagers who want to enrich their understanding of life. This nursing facility, unfortunately, is also run for profit. What is the benefit of limiting the valuable lessons that can be learned in such diverse environments?

The stated purpose of the Student Service Learning requirement is to give the students an opportunity to move through three phases: preparation to make meaningful contributions in response to recognized community needs; action, both direct and indirect, to make contributions, develop responsibility and establish community partnerships; and reflection on all aspects of the service learning experience (MCPS). Students are expected to learn about themselves, to develop skills and to explore careers in the process of earning their SSL hours. To change the requirements by restricting opportunities is to imply that these attributes can only be acquired in a non-profit venue.

In a capitalist country, this concept is ridiculous.

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Henry Loeb. Henry Loeb is a teen who would like nothing better than to play X-box all day long. He is a little obsessed when it comes to Halo 2 and Fable but he doesn't let that get in the way of his writing abilities. In the … More »

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