Thursday, June 21, 2007

Community Service Hours for Students

We are starting to get calls from youth (or their parents) who are interested in putting in some hours at the food bank to complete their community service hours for graduation. It seems that the middle schools in Alameda require between twenty and twenty-five hours, depending on the school, for students to graduate from eighth grade.

I have mixed feelings about requiring community service hours to graduate from middle school. The main thrust of service learning is that the students will integrate the experience into their educations, but I think that the "learning" part of "service learning" has been lost. It is said that community service will get youth involved in their community and will open their eyes to volunteering, but requiring students to do it takes away from its being voluntary. Another idea is that it will give students some idea of the kinds of things that they could do when they grow up, and give them some work experience, but I don't think most students have that in mind, and the "work experience" is negligible.

While the school district is well-meaning, by making students who aren't interested in and aren't suited for working, the school district is putting a burden on the service providers where the district wants them to work. Some youth don't need a lot of supervision, but more require a lot of supervision and cajoling, thereby taking away the service of whichever adult has to make sure they do whatever jobs they are asked to do. Furthermore, there are a lot of youth who are involved in extracurricular activities like athletics, drama, scouting, or church groups, none of which satisfy the service learning requirement. In between the hours dedicated to school and/or work and/or extracurricular activities these students are supposed to "give away" three days?

On top of all that, it is unfortunately true that unless a youth is really interested in whatever it is the service provider does or is otherwise motivated (such as for college applications), these youth are going to get stuck doing jobs that are very similar to the chores they do at home. Service providers know that these people aren't going to stick around once we train them, so unless the students take their own initiatives, we will ask them to do things like sweep, mop, and wash dishes, or tasks like stuffing envelopes that are very repetitive and don't require a lot of teaching on the part of the regular staff person - not exactly the way to inspire a teenager!

High school students are a little different but that's another post.

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