Community service hours are a vital high school learning experience


This year, the administration once again waived the 100 hour community service requirement for Jackson-Reed’s senior class. Although we all know the complications of living in quarantine and the restrictions that entailed, entirely removing the community service requirement was not the right choice. 

Schools across the country require community service as a condition for graduation. Most teenage students simply view this as a nuisance and bemoan the fact that they have to spend their time volunteering. However, community service is an important part of the developmental experience that is high school. In addition to the proven scientific benefits of helping others, which causes oxytocin (the love hormone) to be released, it is important for young people to engage with their community. The act of volunteering allows students to learn about helping those in need. While some would argue that mandatory community service defeats the purpose of volunteer work, the work is still done, and the benefits of this work are still received. Removing the requirement undermines the important shaping experience that service provides. 

Furthermore, DCPS’ decision to eliminate community service as a condition of graduation was unfair to seniors who actually worked towards the completion of their hours. Many of Jackson-Reed’s seniors expressed frustration over the timing of the decision, as most students were informed of the updated policy on March 31, less than 3 months before graduation. Many felt as though four years of intentional and diligent community service had been completely disregarded. Administrators encourage students to log hours throughout all four years of high school, yet those who actually adhered to this advice did not benefit from the change in policy. 

Yet the most important consequence of waiving the community service requirement is the implications this will have for future seniors. For juniors and underclassmen, the 100-hour community service requirement remains intact. However, the decision to waive all hours for the class of 2022 could discourage current students from completing their own volunteer work. Hastily changing established policies not only creates confusion and frustration, but it undermines the future legitimacy of such policies. We can’t blame students for ignoring graduation requirements if these requirements are seldom enforced. DCPS has made a decision that is vulnerable to misinterpretation—and, unfortunately, the consequences of any misunderstandings will be greatest for students.

Despite an understanding that COVID significantly restricted students’ ability to complete the 100 obligatory hours, the class of 2022 should not have received a full dismissal of the requirement. This year’s seniors had the chance to complete hours during three of their four years: before COVID, during their freshman and (most of) their sophomore year, and this year in a non-lockdown environment. Because of this, a reduction of hours would have been a much better response to the complications of COVID, as it would have acknowledged the difficulties involved while taking into account the opportunities that students had to get it done. •