DCPS community service graduation requirement in review

Hannah Masling

The 100 required community service hours seem to loom over the heads of Wilson students like storm clouds. We know that we need to do them, and we know that we won’t graduate without them, yet many of us shudder at the mere thought of completing them. We protest, grouch, and procrastinate performing them, but eventually bite the bullet and head to the local homeless shelter, or more often, our favorite teacher’s classroom after school.

While mandatory community service might seem like the norm to Wilson students, the case nationwide is quite different. As of 2014, out of the 50 U.S. states, only Maryland, in addition to DC, had a statewide community service requirement, according to the Education Commission of the States. And according to the School Superintendent Association, in 1997 only 16 to 18 percent of school districts required service for graduation.

DCPS was one of the first large urban school systems to make community service a graduation requirement in 1992. The decision was made in recognition of “the importance of instilling in students an ethic of service and an appreciation for giving back to the community,” according to the DCPS 2011-12 school year Community Service Guide.

But to the dismay of DCPS officials, each year students manage to cheat the system and graduate without the required hours. Ella, who requested a pseudonym for anonymity and graduated in 2018 from The School Without Walls, explained how she “filled out the form with the information of where [she] got [her] previous hours and faked a signature” for 22 of them.

DCPS trusts and supports school counselors to ensure students are meeting the community service hour requirements in the proper way,” DCPS Press Secretary Shayne Wells said, yet there really is no foolproof system to ensure this. The broader system is changing, however, with this year’s amendments that allow 25 of the 100 hours to be completed in eighth grade, and any number of hours to be completed at one’s own school.

One popular argument against the community service graduation requirement is that many students themselves are in need of service benefits. In DCPS, for example, 77 percent of DCPS students were considered economically disadvantaged as of the 2016-17 school year, which some may argue makes the requirement ironically unfair. Despite a range of feedback toward the requirement since its beginnings, DCPS has no intention of removing it. •