Student should care about serving the community

Graphic+by+Lila+Lingo
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Student should care about serving the community

Graphic by Lila Lingo

Graphic by Lila Lingo

Graphic by Lila Lingo

Graphic by Lila Lingo

Leah Carrier

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Freshmen are constantly receiving advice from upperclassmen. While tips like “don’t sit on the senior steps” and “set your schedule as your lock screen” are helpful, I was overwhelmed by the number of times I heard someone say, “Don’t leave your community service hours until the last minute!” Although it’s easy to lose appreciation for something as seemingly mundane as community service hours, they are, in fact, an important part of human development that should not go unnoticed.

The U.S. public education system is an inviting platform for inspiring humanitarian leadership in the next generation of adults. Many educational administrators believe that school should be a comprehensive learning environment; while an ordinary school would suffice to offer AP US History and Honors Algebra, the better schools would teach not only academic literacy, but societal literacy. 

Science teacher Daniela Muñoz gave some insight into the process. “I think that it’s important to instill a sense of citizenship in students,” she said. “It’s during the teenage years that the brain develops the ability to see itself within a group rather than just being focused on the self. Humans are very much driven by the ‘ego’ during the early years of childhood development.

The obvious way to incorporate community involvement into the vast net of education, school administrators thought, would be to require students to complete community service hours in order to graduate. Rebecca Bradshaw-Smith, a health education teacher, asserted that the idea itself is promising. “When they first started community service hours, years and years and eons ago, students actually took it seriously, because the opportunities were always presented to them.”

Unfortunately, instead of seeing community service as a meaningful way to give back to the community, many students have begun to view it as a tedious task. Something that’s supposed to come from the heart has turned into another item to check off of a continuously growing to-do list. “Over the years, some people have abused that [honor system]—you know, where I’ll give you 10 community service hours for helping me clean up my classroom,” Bradshaw-Smith admitted. Evidently, the true purpose of community service has been lost in the whirlwind of students’ busy lives. “In the end, it doesn’t show anybody anything except for, ok, this is how you get around the system,” Bradshaw-Smith said.

Another factor to consider when evaluating the effectiveness of requiring 100 community service hours for graduation is the socioeconomic disparities present in Wilson’s student body. Muñoz explained, “For my students, and for example for somebody like myself who worked part-time, or almost full-time jobs at the same time as being in high school, it’s really difficult to be able to fulfill this [requirement].” 

Here lies another problem: with such a big school, how can we ensure that the burden of community service falls equally on the shoulders of all students, no matter their income? If it’s a matter of starting an afterschool club or dedicating some class time at the beginning of the year for the purpose of community service, Muñoz is of the belief that “it would behoove all of us, the adults that work within DCPS, to create clear pathways for these community service hours to be served, and that they’re truly community service hours.”

How could we go about encouraging our students to engage in their communities without turning it into a boring assignment? It should be a teacher’s obligation to help foster a student’s enthusiasm and channel it towards a particular aspect of societal improvement or change. Teachers could find some time at the end of the year for students to reflect, out loud, on their experiences. Being able to express the results of a community effort will help us think critically about our purposes as human beings sharing one earth with 7.7 billion other people. Isn’t that the ultimate goal?

On the other hand, I believe students should start taking community service seriously again. No matter who you are, there’s always someone else out there who’s in a worse situation than you. Humility and charity are two basic virtues that students at Wilson should represent with honor, not with half-heartedness. If we are in fact the future, we need to start acting the part. •