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March 13, 2007|by SARAH JOHNSTON

Ashley Daniels knows that patience truly is a virtue. Ashley, 17, a senior at North Hagerstown High School, has volunteered at Star Equestrian Center - a facility offering therapeutic horseback riding, for more than nine years.

"When I'm working with disabled riders, I have to pay close attention to their needs," she says. "What works for one rider doesn't always work for another; you have to be understanding. It takes a while to build trust with the rider. My time at Star Equestrian has taught me patience."

During her time at Star, Ashley has obtained more than 2,000 Student Service Learning (SSL) hours, far exceeding the 75 hours of community service that Maryland state law mandates as a high school graduation requirement.

According to the Maryland Student Service Alliance, in 1993, Maryland became the first state in the nation to require high school students to engage in service-learning activities as a condition of graduation.


In Washington County, students receive 45 SSL hours by the time they enter high school. Students earn these hours by participating in middle school science, social studies and physical education courses. In 10th grade, students earn 15 SSL hours through a Health/Life Skills class. Students are left with 15 SSL hours to be earned through independent volunteer activities.

Meet the deadlines

Many students are familiar with "that yellow card" (the Record of Participation log) used to record SSL hours. It is important for students to also be familiar with the guidelines and procedures for obtaining SSL hours. Otherwise "that yellow card" may come to resemble a yellow penalty flag, disqualifying a student's hours and forfeiting his or her progress.

Although every Maryland student must have engaged in 75 hours of service-learning activities to graduate, schools may implement their own deadlines. For instance, students at North Hagerstown High School must submit SSL hours to their guidance counselor in the same calendar year that they are earned in.

In addition, North High seniors must have all of their SSL hours completed by May 5th, or they will not be permitted to attend prom.

Get approval

The column indicating "School Advisor Approval" may be the most consequential item on the yellow card, determining whether a student's volunteer activity is eligible for SSL hours.

Student-designed independent service-learning activities are encouraged. The Sherry Unger Award, presented to "noteworthy service-learning projects," has honored a variety of unique projects created by individuals and groups. Students must have novel projects approved by their high school guidance counselor.

Students are also advised to seek authorization from their guidance counselor concerning service-learning activities performed through their place of worship. Many churches are involved in community outreach projects, such as preparing meals for the homeless or stocking local food pantries. These qualify for SSL hours. However, service-learning activities must be secular in nature, meaning that they cannot pertain to religion or worship.

If students have any doubt that the service-learning project they are participating in does not meet Maryland guidelines, they are urged to consult with their guidance counselor.

Keep a record

After students record their SSL hours on the yellow card, they should make a copy for their records. A guidance counselor's office contains prodigious piles of paperwork that a student's Record of Participation can easily be lost in, so it is important for students to have proof of their participation in service-learning activities.

Also, a student's log of service-learning projects is a useful, time-saving resource to be used for filling out both college and scholarship applications.

Scouting SSL hours

Students need not even leave their school to receive SSL hours. Many school clubs, including Student Government Association, Key Club, Best Buddies and National Honor Society, sponsor events and activities that provide students with SSL hours.

Also, there are countless opportunities within the community: Washington County Public Schools partner with more than 50 nonprofit organizations that offer SSL hours. A complete list of partner organizations can be found in the guidance offices of Washington County Public Schools.

Here are a few opportunities to check out:

· For the animal lover -Humane Society of Washington County

Contact: Margaret Rhoads at 301-733-2060

· For the young environmentalist - C&O Canal National Historical Park

Contact: David Tune at 301-714-2233;

Training: Brief, on-site training is lead by park staff.

Opportunities: Park staff members lead one-day projects, including vegetation removal and trash cleanup. Volunteer opportunities for individuals are limited, but the park welcomes groups to participate in service projects.

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