Supporting Service

April 26, 2007, midnight | By Ethan Kuhnhenn | 17 years, 2 months ago

School Board gets the big picture with 15 hour increase

Amid the frenzy of preparing for high school graduation, Student Service Learning (SSL) often becomes an afterthought, a vague notion that settles into the far corners of memory until, for some, second semester of senior year rolls around.

Passing classes, participating in sports and clubs and holding a job become the center of attention for most high schoolers. Yet the school board has stressed SSL, and community involvement to MCPS students since the sixth grade. As a testament to their belief that service learning "provides the student with knowledge, skills, attitudes and career exploration opportunities," last month the school board increased the number of service hours required for graduation from 60 to 75.

Montgomery County should be applauded for recognizing the benefits of Student Service and its correlation to improving student-community relationships and academic performance as well.

For chronic procrastinators (those seniors who've yet to log an hour), the mere mention of SSL can invoke panic attacks, and they'll be the first to cry bloody murder at the 15 hour increase. Students who've already completed their hours and have perhaps enjoyed their SSL experience (gasp) will argue that adding 15 more hours to an SSL requirement that students have seven years to complete is peanuts.

SSL is what students make of it. For those whose only motivation to fulfill SSL requirements is graduation, logging a couple hours a month is nothing. Keep in mind that all Montgomery County students are "promoted" from middle school with 30 hours. For incoming freshmen that means only 45 hours to log in high school, considering they didn't do any additional volunteer work in middle school.

45 hours over four years. That's less than an hour a month. Plus, there are endless opportunities for service. Blair even has its own Career Center, where students can find out about jobs, internships and volunteer opportunities. The career center is so student-oriented that blazers can join a mailing list and have news about employment and service opportunities emailed to them. The point is that SSL is by no means some insurmountable challenge to overcome. It can be easy and convenient; and believe it or not will prepare students for life beyond high school.

Montgomery County is expanding its vision of experiential learning, a teaching method that increasingly draws praise from teachers, students and educational studies alike. In a 2000 report by "Educational Statistics Quarterly," researchers determined that, while motives such as encouraging students to become more active members in the community were the driving factors behind SSL, teaching critical thinking and problem-solving skills as well as improving academics were significant reasons for encouraging volunteer work.

Obviously one of the primary goals of student service is to make students productive and thoughtful members of the community. Hopefully, requiring SSL will allow students to reap the personal rewards of volunteer work: the friends they have made, the experience they have learned from and the sense of pride they have felt after giving to the community. What's more, the academic benefits of the service are becoming clearer. In the report, nearly 20 percent of public schools offering SSL programs cited improving academics as their top reason for inclusion.

Now that MCPS has increased the number of SSL hours required for graduation, it needs to make sure that students complete the hours and remain on track for graduation. Blair already has a great resource in its Career Center, and the administration should further emphasize that the school is more than willing to help its students go out into the real world and volunteer.

Ethan Kuhnhenn. Ethan Kuhnhenn is a junior in the Communication Arts program and is entering his first year as a SCO staff member. When he's not fishing in his new bass boat, you can probably find him at Taco Bell chilling with his best friend, the cheesy … More »

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