Doing their time: Community service graduation requirement in full swing

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With the 2010-11 school year more than halfway through and a
brand new graduation requirement officially commencing this year,
high school freshman are practicing service with a smile. At least,
some are. The mandate, designed as a horizon-expanding primer for
youth approaching college and adulthood, requires high school
students in the Gilroy Unified School District to complete 80 hours
of community service
– during nonschool hours – by May 1, 2014 if they want a
diploma.

It sucks. It’s lame,

said Jim Nichols, 15, a freshman at Christopher High School.
With the 2010-11 school year more than halfway through and a brand new graduation requirement officially commencing this year, high school freshman are practicing service with a smile.

At least, some are.

The mandate, designed as a horizon-expanding primer for youth approaching college and adulthood, requires high school students in the Gilroy Unified School District to complete 80 hours of community service – during nonschool hours – by May 1, 2014 if they want a diploma.

“It sucks. It’s lame,” said Jim Nichols, 15, a freshman at Christopher High School. “Every place I went to said I have to be 18 or older.”

Amid a backdrop of widespread support from GUSD administrators and most parents, some students like it, some students hate it and a few are shrugging their shoulders.

“Without the community service requirement, many of our students would never think about anyone else but themselves,” reasoned Julie Berggren, director of student activities at GHS, in an e-mail sent Tuesday.

The regulation passed with flying colors Aug. 12, 2010 by an enthusiastic board of trustees and is dually supported by both principals of Gilroy High School and CHS.

At one point GUSD trustee Fred Tovar suggested the bar be set at 120 to 200 hours, but the program was ultimately capped at 80.

With the mandate now in full swing – the graduating class of 2014 being the first group to experience the program in its entirety – CHS freshman Toni Tanaka doesn’t think it’s too bad.

“It’s a good way to get people to help,” the 14-year-old said, joking complainers “are just lazy.”

Her freshmen friends Clara Kennedy, 14, Emily Doughty, 15, Sabrina Yawary, 15, and Amy Pickrel, 14, said they agreed.

As for progress, that’s another story.

Out of a handful of students surveyed Thursday during lunch at CHS, Tanaka included, many hadn’t started.

Currently the GHS class of 2014 – which anticipates 340 graduating students garnering a total 27,200 community service hours – has turned in a total of 193 hours, according to Berggren.

Gloria Hennessy, community service coordinator for CHS, pointed out students turn in their log sheets when they run out of space and start a new one. The only way to gauge hours completed for the 348 students expected to graduate by 2014 is by tallying what’s been submitted so far.

Hennessy said the 74.5 hours turned in by one student is the current documented tally for CHS.

Several students said Thursday they were aware of the go-getter student who turned in almost all of the hours – but said knocking it out all at once isn’t a common trend.

When asked about the new policy, several wrinkled their faces and gave opinionated responses.

“Just trying to concentrate on grades as a freshman is hard enough,” said freshman Mia Malloy, 15.

Jacklyn Cambria, 14, a freshman who has not logged any hours yet, described the policy as “overwhelming.”

Freshman Gina Rodriguez, 14, thought 80 hours was too much.

“We all talk about it with each other,” she said. “We hate it. I don’t know anybody who likes it.”

Not all responses merited negativity, however.

Freshman Ali Villanueva, 15, thought the idea was good, but said “it would be better if it was voluntary. It would set you apart from all the slackers.”

Two juniors, including Ariana Jaso, 16, and Josh Castillo, 16, felt the regulation was unnecessary. Castillo pointed out the pressure is already on students to get good grades and perform well on tests.

“I don’t think it’s fair, and I’m a junior,” said Jaso, referring to the fact sophomores, juniors and seniors are not affected by the new policy.

Students weren’t the only ones with varying viewpoints, either.

Tony Cariglio, whose freshman daughter attends GHS, said over the phone Monday “it’s basically forcing them, and that’s not volunteering. That’s free child labor, in my eyes.”

According to Marilyn Ayala, assistant superintendent of Educational Services for GUSD, the move to tack on community service graduation requirements was a queue from other institutions with similar expectations.

“Other schools had it,” she said. “It had been an interest of the (GUSD) board members for a while.”

Berggren maintained benefits are numerous, if not crucial since colleges and universities want well-rounded students; something volunteer work contributes to.

Cariglio asserted the pressures of high school are burdensome enough – especially for students struggling to receive A’s.

“My daughter has to do 30 hours a year, and that was always simple,” said Debbie Gjerde, president of the GHS Parents Club, referring to the fact her daughter’s leadership classes already required it. “Eighty hours in four years is very little.”

Brian Dauenhauer, whose daughter is a senior at GHS, son is a junior at CHS and youngest son is in the eighth grade at South Valley Middle School, agrees.

His kids were already volunteering through school, church and sports programs anyway, he said, so “I don’t see it as a big change for anyone.”

Outside the arena of GUSD administration, CHS Principal John Perales said the overall reaction was, “OK,” but he has not had any negative feedback from students or parents.

In an e-mail sent Tuesday, GHS senior Rachel Smith wrote she’s heard positive responses from some students who feel the new requirement will help underclassmen break out of their comfort zones and make a positive difference they can see.

As for the unhappy students, Smith wrote it’s not so much the extra, unexpected responsibility.

“I have heard more complaints that the new requirement invalidates the rewards that come from doing community service,” she wrote. “Some students feel that to require students do something takes the light away from students that act of their own accord.”

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