Students slowly serving community hours

Austin Boyd gets creative with his sunglasses during the Gilroy High School graduation ceremony Friday.

High school students may be doing their community service with a smile, but when it comes to shaving away the 80 hours needed to graduate, some are meandering along at the pace of a snail.

Designed as a horizon-expanding primer for teens approaching college and adulthood, the obligation to help out around their hometown is technically “forced” on Gilroy’s youth in grades 9 through 12. The Class of 2014 is the first group to experience the requirement in its entirety.

“They are enjoying the experience,” assured Athletic Director Julie Berggren at Gilroy High School. “Every time they turn in their timesheet, they’re smiling and proud of themselves.”

But after laying down a “tall order” last year that mandates high school seniors bank 80 hours of community service in exchange for a diploma, the Gilroy Unified School District Board of Education is cracking a friendly whip after studying students’ sluggish progress during a recent June 14 school board meeting.

The percent of high school youth who have submitted (some, not necessarily all) of their hours at Christopher High School is 28.3 percent for the Class of 2014; and 14.3 percent for the Class of 2015.

Low as those numbers are, they’re more than twice as high than the GHS class of 2014 (10.3 percent) and 2015 (3.3 percent).  

At CHS, the number of students who have submitted hours breaks down into 102 and 66 for the classes of 2014 and 2015. At GHS, 44 students and 11 students in the classes of 2014 and 2015 have submitted hours.

That equates to “a pretty low number of kids,” observed Trustee Jaime Rosso.

Unless students “step up the pace,” come graduation, “they’re not going to get their diploma … that will really create kind of a major problem for ourselves,” he cautioned.

Superintendent Debbie Flores remembered a similar scenario when she was serving as superintendent of Santa Barbara Unified School District, recalling seniors who were 30 to 40 hours shy of their requirement. “It was just a nightmare,” she said.

For some students, heaping 80 hours of community service on top of commitments such as sports, clubs and extracurricular activities complicates the high school juggling act.

While “it can get done,” 80 hours is “kind of a lot,” admits GHS sophomore Juan Davalos, whose schedule is already jam-packed with Associated Student Body duties and teaching a Zumba class.

He points out that Salinas High School only requires 60 hours of community service.

“I’m like, ‘um, why do we have 80?” he asks. “I think it should be shortened down.”

With each high school’s population getting bigger by the year, Davalos is also fretting there won’t be enough opportunities to go around. He said the problem is already a reality.

“We look around and ask people, and they all say, ‘no, but we’ll contact you,’” he said. “The time comes and you’re like, ‘where’s the phone call?’”

Since the Gilroy Board of Education unanimously passed  the Aug. 12, 2010 motion to make community service a mandatory graduation requirement, trustee Rosso – who questioned whether GUSD is doing enough to support its staff to “make sure this happens” – pressed the importance of keeping it “on our radar screen.”

Trustees agree: The district needs additional strategies to garner timely engagement from its students.

After absorbing feedback from parents and students throughout the year, CHS Student Activities Coordinator Gloria Hennessey said the plain reality is that it’s just a matter of hammering home a concept that, up until now, was unprecedented for local high school youth.

“This is a new part of our culture here in Gilroy,” she explained. “People aren’t sure exactly what it is, so we’ve spent lots of time educating the kids, and letting them know they’re the ones who should be initiating and doing it.”

As for those students who have “bought into” the concept and adopted the requirement as part of their high school experience, “I get lots of positives about it,” Hennessey added.

Finding ways to help ‘spur this along’

Hennessey and Berggren say both high schools are already employing various methods to remind students about the ticking clock. Tactics include bulletin boards, website posts, electronic lists of volunteer openings, information posted on office walls and morning announcements read over the intercom.

At GHS, students who log onto the school’s website are met with a blaring notice in the middle of the homepage:

“Are you on your way to completing the 80 hours of community service required for graduation?” it asks.

Typed up in a mustard-yellow font and set against a ketchup-red background (coincidentally, the same color combination used by most fast-food restaurant chains to catch attention) the post is pretty conspicuous.

The CHS website, alternately, is devoid of any blaring reminders – although Principal John Perales said each student’s record of community hours are embedded into his or her personal Schoolloop webpage (a social software used for communicating and sharing information in K-12 schools). The totals pop up each time the student or parent logs on.

GHS’s Schoolloop does not offer this function, however Flores assures it will by the start of next year.

Flores has since reported that a number of proactive tactics are in the works.

A letter will go out to GUSD students and parents in July; administration will speak to every class about the requirement in September and the subject will be pressed upon during freshman orientations and open houses.

The district is also considering offering another community service day similar to one that recently took place at Gilroy Gardens. The event will give incoming freshman a head start chance to chip away at their hours and get acquainted with various nonprofits.


Christopher and Gilroy high schools community service stats
• Percent of students who have submitted hours so far:
– CHS Class of 2014: 28.33 percent
– CHS Class of 2015: 14.32 percent
– GHS Class of 2014: 10.30 percent
– GHS Class of 2015:  3.31 percent
• Number of students who have submitted hours so far:
– CHS Class of 2014: 102 students
– CHS Class of 2015: 66
– GHS Class of 2014: 44
– GHS Class of 2015: 11
• Average number of hours completed per student with submitted hours:
– CHS Class of 2014: 38.7 percent
– CHS Class of 2015: 25.3 percent
– GHS Class of 2014: 40.4 percent
– GHS Class of 2015: 17.8 percent

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