With the intention of fostering a community that prioritizes selfless service for the less fortunate, our school’s 120-hour community service requirement reflects the administration’s position on what a well-rounded student is.
Community service hour requirements began decades ago primarily in Jesuit schools. It was not until the 1990s, that private and eventually public schools embraced the addition to their curriculum. Soon after, states began to adopt the practice. Maryland currently has a mandatory requirement of 75 hours and Washington D.C. requires 100 hours. Florida, New York and Rhode Island allow a local board to set their own policies.
However, with having a single piece of paper as the only necessity to provide evidence of how many hours a student has completed, the validity of the service completed often times comes down to trust. Consequently, inflating service hours has become an epidemic that plagues our guidance counselors’ offices and beckons the question: are all service hours equal?
Whether it be a club allotting two hours for every baked good brought in or a sponsor signing off on four hours when you actually did one, service hours are often treated like the goodie bags at the end of a party. The mentality that extra hours are awarded to students rather than earned too often coincides with the age-old quantity over quality mindset.
Lauren Swierczek, director of community service at Riverdale Country School, a private K-12 school in New York City, put an end to Riverdale’s 100 service hour requirement in 2007. “What I was finding was that the fixation was more on hours than acts of service” she said. “Students weren’t actually doing it. Documents were forged.” In place of the graduation requirement, Swierczek ordered all school communities, including sports teams, clubs and the school newspaper, must complete a service project each year approved by the school board.
Likewise, Patti Schackett, director of community service at Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School, minimized Columbia’s community service requirement from 100 hours to 60 hours hoping, “Students would choose quality projects that do the most good, as opposed to projects that offer a lot of hours.”
However, what once began as a meaningful endeavor to promote student activity has developed into an unhealthy race for hours. “Schools tend to be strict about the requirements, but not so strict about how you fulfill them,” Sandra R. Bass, editor of Manhattan newsletter, The Private School Insider, said.
Removing the mandatory requirement would repress the inflation of hours and the idea that while all service hours are equal, some are more equal than others.