Jessica McKinney, John Manzari, and Taylor Reis bag trash at CCNV.
President Obama has mandated that all middle- and high-school students complete 50 hours of community service each year. Now that the President has raised the bar on youth volunteer hours, how will local schools respond?
As of now, the requirements set by D.C-area schools fall short of President Obama’s target hours. (Take Wilson High School, which requires that students complete 100 hours of community service over four years in order to graduate.) D.C.’s private schools also fall short of the president’s goal: Sidwell Friends (which the President’s daughters attend), Georgetown Day School, Edmond Burke, and The Field School each require their students to complete 60 hours of community service—but that’s spread over a few years.
There’s a good deal of variation in how these schools define community service and how they structure their programs. Students at Sidwell Friends must work with a community that is “less fortunate”: “The project should involve direct person-to-person service in a disadvantaged setting with which the student is unfamiliar,” the charter explains. Current Sidwell projects include student volunteer programs at local public elementary schools and nonprofits, including programs with the Rosemount Child Development Center, IONA House, Washington Home, and Martha’s Table. Georgetown Day works with institutions like the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind, K.E.E.N, Metro Teen Aids, People Love Animals (PAL), the Latin American Youth Center, District of Columbia Jewish Community Center (DCJCC), Food and Friends, and Sibley Hospital.
Edmond Burke School requires that students begin community service in sixth grade, collecting 15 hours every year until they graduate, for a total of 120 hours over six years. The school organizes activities by grade year into a year-long project on which the class collaborates. Sixth-grade students work with the National Zoo and the Washington Animal Rescue League, freshmen tutor students in D.C. public elementary schools through Kidpower, and juniors work with Community Family Life Services, Inc.
Diego Durarn, Director of Community Service and Service Learning at Edmund Burke, thinks that if Obama’s plan is to be a success, schools will have to go for the roots as well as the branches.
“I think that besides just focusing on a higher number, we also need to implement deeper learning situations, where students don’t just address the effects of a situation (homelessness) but begin to understand the conditions and context that cause a situation in the first place (why homelessness exists),” he said in an email.
In fact, that is just what students at The Field School did the first two weeks of February. Taking advantage of the school’s winter internship program, Field students lived in the basement of The Pilgrimage located in DuPont Circle and spent volunteer hours at CCNV, DC Central Kitchen, food and friends and Martha’s Table. They are working to meet Field’s (admittedly pedestrian) definition of community service: “To directly benefit people who are in some way less fortunate than the average person.
Having been doing community service since middle school, Field tenth grader Taylor Reis reflected that this was the first time she’s felt connected with the volunteer process.
“Before this experience, I didn’t see homeless people as people,” she said. “It was like there was a wall between us.” During this trip she began to see it differently. “Homeless people have stories. They are people who have lost their page and gotten off track.”
Jessica McKinney and John Manzari take care of the details at CCNV