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Work goes a long way

Opportunities are abundant for students looking to fill service-learning requirements

Opportunities are abundant for students looking to fill service-learning requirements

March 23, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

Imagination is the only limitation to the fun you can have while earning the community service hours you need to graduate from high school in Washington County.

Like the outdoors? Then consider tackling a service project at one of the area's national parks. Are animals your thing? Call local animal rescue shelters to find out about service-learning opportunities. Like to write? You could help produce newsletters and brochures for area nonprofit agencies. Like kids? Consider becoming a mentor or homework helper. Like sports? Volunteer as an umpire for youth league ball games.

"Instead of looking at it as something you have to do, look at it as fun," said Smithsburg Middle School social studies teacher Lawrence Myers, who was among 12 educators recently honored for providing students with interesting, inspiring and academically challenging service-learning projects. "Pick a project you enjoy."

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Maryland law requires students to complete 75 hours of community service - called student service learning, or SSL - before they graduate from high school, said Sharon Chirgott, the school system's career technology education and SSL resource teacher.

Students can begin earning their hours in middle school, where SSL projects usually are embedded into the curriculum, she said. Middle school students can earn up to 45 SSL hours before starting high school. Students may begin accumulating student service learning hours beyond classroom activities the day after they graduate from eighth grade.

Myers said he'd like middle school students to be able to earn SSL hours outside the classroom because it can be tough for busy high school students to earn their hours.

High school guidance counselors and SSL coordinators can help by letting students know about community service opportunities. The school system also provides a brochure to students that lists names of organizations with verifiable service projects that students may perform, an effort to keep students from trying to pass off some tasks as service learning. Tenth-grade students earn 15 SSL hours for participating in life skills and health classes, leaving 15 hours open for the student to fill independently, Chirgott said. Students can find worthy projects on their own, but they have to get their project approved by school officials before moving forward.

"We prefer that they link up with an agency and get all 15 hours at one time," instead of picking up a few hours here and there through different service efforts, Chirgott said.

There's a valid service project to suit just about every interest, from helping out at the hospital to feeding the hungry during the holidays.

"The opportunities are out there," Myers said.

He helps seventh-grade students at Smithsburg Middle School get a big jump-start on their SSL hours by planning and participating in a six-kilometer charity walk at Antietam National Battlefield.

Give him a call at 301-766-8353 if you need some help coming up with a good SSL idea. He's got plenty.

Guidelines for students in West Virginia and Pennsylvania


Students in West Virginia public high schools must complete "work-based learning" requirements before they can graduate, said Jaimee Borger, director of media services for Berkeley County Public Schools.

The system is based on points. Students entering the state's school system in ninth grade have to earn 10 points before they graduate. If they enter the system in 10th grade, they have to earn seven points. In 11th grade, the requirement is five points, and it's two points for 12th-graders new to the system.

They can earn their points in a variety of ways, Borger said.

Students will earn 10 points if they participate a minimum of 90 days in one of the following activities:

  • health clinical experience

  • cooperative work-based experience, such as working half a day and attending classes half a day

  • regular work-based employment

  • three years of ROTC

  • real-world work experience based at the school

  • supervised agricultural experience


Students also can earn five points for participating in such extracurricular activities as band, drama and sports for at least one semester, Borger said.

Students receive a handbook with work-based learning guidelines and are expected to submit valid documentation to get their points, Borger said.

Students in the Chambersburg (Pa.) Area School District don't have a work-based learning or community service graduation requirement.

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