kitchen table math, the sequel: Community Service

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Community Service

Is it now common for schools to require community service? What are some examples of how this works? I don't see anything explicitly required by our schools. This came up because my son was asked to play the piano at a special meeting in another town. In the course of the conversation, the person (who was a high school teacher in the other town) said that they would give him a letter of community service. My first reaction was irritation. My son would (should) make the decision without that carrot dangling in from of him. Of course he said yes, but when I mentioned the community service angle, he wasn't surprised. He said that they push that all of the time at school, although he didn't think it was mandatory for our middle school.

Philosophically, all of this bothers me. I always remember what Ollie North's lawyer said during the Iran-Contra scandal:

"I'm not a potted plant. I'm here as the lawyer. That's my job.”

That's how I feel. I'm not a potted plant. I'm here as the parent. That's my job.

I don't want my son always looking for an angle or for something to go on his resume, but I can see the changes taking place.


SwitchedOnMom said...

Here in Maryland, Student Service Learning is a state high school graduation requirement. You can read more here:

Or watch this flash presentation:

VickyS said...

Don't get me going.

The International Baccalaureate program has an explicit community service requirement. 15 hours of community service per trimester was also required in IB middle school my son attended.

The new craze now is "service learning" as an overarching theme for schools. Here is some info on it, plus you can look up "service-learning" on wikipedia.

Case in point is a local elementary school which used to have a schedule where you could take 8-10 miniclasses during the afternoon each year in such things as astronomy, frogs & toads, French, band, intro to algebra or geometry, great books, PE, pet care, woodworking, sculpting--all sorts of refreshing, interesting things--and has replaced it with a service learning emphasis. Read about it here.

School people think this will boost achievement.

N.B. this school, which used to be called Webster Enrichment Magnet School, has recently changed its name to Barack and Michelle Obama Service Learning Magnet.

VickyS said...

In addition to explicit hourly requirements of service (you can't call it "volunteering") some schools/teachers incorporate this into the curriculum.

For example, in science or math class once (ha! I can't remember which and that alone tells you something) each student had to choose an environmental problem, create a survey about it, administer the survey, collect and analyze the data, then choose a public activity to raise awareness of this problem. Talk about an agenda!

We (yes, we, these are projects that require massive amounts of parental energy) chose "global dimming." (My kids' dad joked that there seems to be a lot of that happening in education these days.) For our public activity we decided to make a sign "Stop Global Dimming" and stand on a busy street corner (right next to "The End is Near Guy"--no, not really but I wish he had been there!). It was quite an experience although not necessarily what the teacher was looking for I suppose...I'm just glad we didn't get locked up.

If you take this stuff too seriously you'll go nuts.

Independent George said...

What if your kids volunteered for a school choice advocacy group?

Anonymous said...

In Ontario, a high school diploma requires 40 hours of community service.

For those public schools offering the two-year IB diploma as well, the students complete those 40 hours during grade 9 and 10 and then another 150 hours over their grade 11-12 years to meet the IB requirements. The 150 hours is divided equally among sports, arts and service, and according to our local school, the result is it "Raises students’ awareness of community needs and builds confidence in their ability to bring about change." I'm not clear on how playing team sports meets this goal, but whatever. Don't get me started on how self-important the whole IB thing is.

The 40 hours for all students is a fairly new requirement here, within the past 5 years I think. It was introduced at the same time as recent policy changes that basically forbid teachers to fail students in high school.

Recently Ontario also tried to tie high school attendance to driver's licenses, with the intention that anyone 18 or under would not be able to obtain a driver's license unless they were in school. That was never passed but I heard at the time it was modeled on legislation in some US states.


lgm said...

Service is only required here for NHS, NJHS, and IB. The first two require letters attesting to service as part of the nomination process. NHS really gets parents going, as they are using the kids as free peer tutors for Math A and B.

VickyS said...

Did I read it here or elsewhere, about a student's community service project being lobbying for and succeeding in raising his school's community service requirement from 30 to 40 hours?

He wins the what-a-guy award, hands down.

Anonymous said...

Fortunately, we moved out of Maryland before my kids had to do community service. I am adamantly opposed to such requirements; it amounts to forced labor and only certain kinds of service are allowed. I was told that my son's time with Montgomery Soccer would not count, for instance. My understanding is that MD does not allow anything under the auspices of a church or synagogue,either, at least in practice. Maybe SwitchedonMom can clarify.

SteveH said...

Our schools do not (yet) require any community service, but they may require community service learning as part of some classes. They seem to be two different things.

Catherine said...

Election is almost done -- I am about to make my REAPPEARANCE on ktm -- I miss you guys!

Answer to your question: community service is a universal requirement, as far as I can tell.

A couple of years ago I sat in on a Site Committee meeting at the middle school and one of the teachers pitched the parents on putting together a community service requirement for middle schoolers. (In lieu of actually having any say in the operation of the school, which is the proper function of the site committee.)

There were no takers.

NO takers.

It was a bit of an eye opener because I can never gauge how much of an outlier I am.

The teacher brought up community service for middle schoolers.

One dad was somewhat interested - but somewhat theoretically. He thought community service is good.

The mom who spoke demurred politely. As I recall, she pointed out that it would be yet another activity to try to drive kids to in an already overstuffed after school schedule.

So the teacher pitched it again.

Again, the mom demurred.

And - I think I'm remembering this right - the teacher came back again!

It would be good to have a community service requirement, she said, because kids that age think about themselves all the time. Required community service would help them be less selfish. (I think she actually used words like that. There was nothing positive in her view of the children.)

The mom said, "I don't like required community service that much. It makes volunteer service into homework."

Something like that.

concernedCTparent said...

Hurry back. You are very much missed.

Catherine Johnson said...

I'm back!

You want to hear something really weird???

I feel as if Kitchen Table Math is....the real world.

This little sojourn into local politics has been an adventure - fantastically interesting, fantastically difficult, all-consuming....but "not the real world."

Independent George said...

We're way more fun than a bunch of grubby politicians. Better-looking, too.

SteveH said...

"not the real world."

My question is whether improved academics got lost in the talk about money. Were you using money to gain some leverage in academics? In our town, anyone who talks about money (less), doesn't care about academics or the quality of the school. That's the standard belief, and some people fit that profile perfectly. Perhaps your town got to the point where lower cost and better academics were not considered to be incompatible.

saint pauli girl said...

I agree with Vicki S....Don't get me going on the Service Learning requirements. As my dad so eloquently put it, " yeh, they are teaching kids to be of service ie: fast food workers..."
I live in the area of the Webster Magnet School. Although my kids do not attend that school, I have had a snootful of service learning projects assigned to my kids throughout the years. We have partnership schools in the suburbs where kids get together to "make friends" with kids in other areas of the city. I'm all for Feed the Children, but my daughter's class has been working on this project for the last 3 weeks, taking a field trip to the center. "Let's not teach history or proper English, let's teach service." The kids miss a lot of instructional time doing these projects. No wonder my husband and I are so tired. We have to teach them school subjects after they get home from school.

I feel I can't say anything negative about these programs because it is just not politically correct. Teachers love them. The principal loves them. Parents love them. "They are soooo good for the students and the community. A good way to build community in the school." I think it turns kids off to volunteerism.

saint pauli girl said...

I forgot to add that I have been trying to find information on Service Learning in the schools and how parents view the requirements. Its hard to find information on this. Anyone know of any other websites?

"Stop Global Dimming"... an idea for T-shirts..... Hmmm

Catherine Johnson said...

We're way more fun than a bunch of grubby politicians. Better-looking, too.lollll!!!!!

Links to photos of nearly all the folks running for school board are at the bottom of this page: Westchester

Catherine Johnson said...

What if your kids volunteered for a school choice advocacy group?Or, better yet, what if your kid(s) volunteered to work on the campaign of a reform candidate for school board?

Catherine Johnson said...

My question is whether improved academics got lost in the talk about money.Interestingly, that did not happen.

We are in a unique situation in that the budget has doubled in 10 years' time AND we are experiencing a "crisis of leadership," with many parents, residents, and (it appears) teachers unhappy with the administration. As a result, the reality that you could double spending and see educational quality either not rise or actually decline is front and center.

These two letters to the editor give you a flavor of the election:

Unfair description of Irvington votersSupport Camp in Irvington; vote 'No' on budgetEd and I both wrote letters for Robyne that stressed academics.

Here is Phil Maley's letter:

The current economic crisis has focused attention on the fiscal irresponsibility of the Irvington school board and also revealed some very serious concerns about academics. Relying on the one-time federal stimulus, the Irvington school board has approved spending that is unsustainable and unnecessary. The school board has only nibbled around the edges of the excessive spending.

We need new school board members, and we do not need any more mice. I urge the voters to vote "No" on the budget to send a message to the school board that we want fiscal responsibility and improved academics. Robyne Camp has the integrity and strength of character to put education first, and do what is necessary to restructure our schools.
MAY 15, 2009

Phil was a member of the school board in the 1980s.

The Rivertowns Enterprise, in its article on the election, included 3 paragraphs in which money & academics were joined: spending too high/quality too low. That was striking.