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Editorial - Don't gut SSL program

June 25, 1997

Ever since it was first proposed, The Herald-Mail has supported the Student Service Learning program that requires high school students to do 75 hours of volunteer service prior to graduation. Previous generations accepted a far greater burden - the military draft - without whining. Furthermore, the educational benefit of seeing the community's needs firsthand outweigh any bogus claims of "involuntary servitude."

Unfortunately, that's not what's being proposed for the program now. With a plan to award hours for many in-school projects, Washington County officials hope to get middle schoolers all their hours before they even reach high school. We agree with William McKinley, director of secondary education, that this isn't how it was supposed to work.

McKinley and company have submitted a plan that would require students to earn at least 15 hours through individual service projects on their own. Not enough, we say. If anything, hours that can be earned on in-school projects should be limited to 15. We say this for two reasons.

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If the projects are truly meaningful, then they're taking class time away from something else. And if what the in-school projects amount to is reclassifying classwork as volunteer service, then school officials ought to quit kidding everybody and argue for the repeal of the requirement.

What we are talking about is not 75 hours a month, or a year. What we're talking about is 75 hours spread over a four-year high school career, or a little bit over an hour a month. There are burdensome requirements in this life, but this isn't one of them.

This is an occasion for students to see early on the reality of a life in a nursing home by reading or talking to residents. This is an opportunity to consider what non-profit agencies do to improve the quality of life here by volunteering with one of them. This is a chance for students to see that the world doesn't revolve around them. Don't deny them the experience by gutting this program.

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