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High school seniors lacking service time

April 11, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Hundreds of high school seniors in Washington County have not finished the 75 service hours necessary for their graduation.

Currently, 341 seniors have not yet met the requirement, according to resource teacher Fred Jacobs. He said 69 percent of the senior class (777 students) have completed enough hours.

Jacobs, who coordinates the Student Service Learning program, said no one has ever been denied a diploma for failing that requirement only, but it is possible.

Maryland law states all students shall complete either 75 hours of service or a locally designed program. When the law took effect in 1994, all jurisdictions had chosen to create individual programs, Jacobs said.

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The Washington County Board of Education kept the 75-hour requirement and built the hours into middle school schedules. It originally put 25 hours of service time into the sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

In 1996, the School Board began changing that schedule in phases, according to Jacobs. As a result, all middle school students will get 15 service hours working on projects in class next year.

For example, the sixth grade project theme is "environmental restoration" and is linked to science. Students have helped fix up school grounds, built bird houses and created wetlands, Jacobs said.

After the eighth grade, they must perform 15 hours of work outside school at a nonprofit organization, such as a church. They earn another 15 hours during a 10th-grade class, Health/Life Skills.

This year's graduating class is the last group of students who have to finish all their service hours outside of school, Jacobs said. They did not benefit from any built-in service hours.

Other students may also have to make up time because they entered the school system from other jurisdictions or transferred between schools and missed projects.

Of this year's ninth-graders, 75 percent have already met the state requirement, according to Jacobs. Seventy-four percent of the 10th-graders and 77 percent of the 11th-graders are also done.

Service learning can be a variety of activities, from cleaning up a park to writing letters for the elderly. However, certain rules apply. A student cannot be paid or replace a paid worker to get the hours.

According to state law, service learning must involve three components: preparation, action, and reflection, all of which must be documented. "It is not community service," said Jacobs. "There's more to it. This is a learning experience."

Students can also earn half an elective credit working 66 hours through a separate volunteer program. The hours apply toward the service learning requirement.

The volunteer program is primarily for students who want to work a lot for one organization. One student worked two summers at Fort Frederick State Park and earned a full credit. "It is almost like an intern experience," said Jacobs.

Nonprofit organizations needing student volunteers can contact Jacobs at (301) 766-2955. Those who want more information about the service learning requirement may call him or their local school.

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