Mandate Community Service in NYS High Schools

Introduction

Community service is often used in modern society as a remedy for social ills by the youth. Society and indeed the media view the youth as selfish and with great pleasure-seeking needs which require a remedy, and that they are unprepared to take on responsible roles in society due to their ‘youth culture’ which is different from adults. Further, they perceive the youths to be politically ignorant and disinterested in responsible roles in society. Films depicting youths as lacking in morality, anti-intellectual and violent are commonplace. Furthermore, claims that youth are isolated in their own culture are inflated. Part-time jobs and community service can give youths an important chance to make contact with grown-ups and institutions. These also offer chances to familiarize themselves with organizational procedures and principles (Youniss & Yates, 1997). This is why community service is a great opportunity in bringing together the youth and the community in meaningful service and learning experience and thus, the reason why community service should be made mandatory in NYS high schools.

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Youth involvement in addressing community concerns has a great chance of promoting the development of personal and collective identity. This means that one is able to adapt and identify him/herself with positive values in society that give meaning to life and bring hope for the future. Service to the community can be an advancement chance that forms on the youth’s strengths and their desire to participate as members of a society (Youniss & Yates, 1997).

Involvement of high school youths in community service has many benefits such as the provision of youth with alternatives to risky behavior like drug abuse, crime, sexual activities which lead to pregnancies out of wedlock among others. A study done by the Camp Fire USA in collaboration with National Collaboration for Youth in 2005 on the impact of Service-learning, reported a reduced risky behavior among the youth as a result of service-learning. They found a ‘substantial, statistically significant’ reduction in arrests of middle school students (Camp Fire USA, 2005).

The report continues to say that, service-learning benefits the youth from disadvantaged backgrounds by increasing the youth’s awareness about, and participation in civic issues. This way they are able to adopt positive civic attitudes and behaviors than the youths who do not participate in service-learning. They also exhibit a 40% likelihood in to believe they can make a change in their communities. The students involved in service learning show greater commitment to learning and improved school attendance, grades and academic success than students who did not take part in service-learning. In the study of 220 participants from 10 different Indian high school students, their overall grades improved from B to B+.

Community service also provides the youth an empowerment opportunity to play an active role in facing a wide range of community concerns and needs. They also develop their skills, knowledge and values that are important for future employment and good citizenship such as punctuality, responsibility towards given tasks, reliability, good grooming and harmonious interaction with people, which mostly lack in some neighborhoods (Rhoads, 1997).

These programs have however been criticized due to some cost to the community and the students. When community service is mandatory such as in Atlanta, Maryland and Detroit, complaints are that they take away time from part-time paying jobs. For low-income urban youths, the issue is payment for community service.

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Statement of the problem

In spite of the benefit accrued from community service for youths in high schools, NYS high schools have not mandated these programs. This is due to opposition these programs have attracted in the areas, such as they take away time from part-time paying jobs thereby reducing family incomes. Further, they take most of the time for homework and family time for youths and in the case of young people from low-income areas, payment for services is a concern. There are also concerns that mandatory community service will lower future voluntary involvement for the youths. This study is therefore aimed at exploring the benefits the program has on the youths and the community, and make recommendations on what needs to be done to make it more successful.

Research questions

  1. What are the benefits and costs of community service from a school perspective?
  2. What are the benefits and costs of community service from the student’s perspective?
  3. What are the priorities of schools in different districts and financial situations?
  4. Should community service be made mandatory or voluntary?

Research objectives

The study aims at:

  1. Establishing the benefits and costs of community service from a school perspective
  2. Finding out the benefits and costs of community service from the student perspective
  3. Establishing the priorities of different schools in districts in different financial situations
  4. Finding out the peoples’ opinions on whether community service be made mandatory or voluntary
  5. Coming up with recommendations on the implementation of mandatory community service for NYS high schools

Research premises

The study assumes that:

  1. There are benefits and costs of community service from a school perspective
  2. There are benefits and costs of community service from a student perspective
  3. Priorities of schools in different districts and financial situations are different
  4. People have different opinions in regard to mandatory community service in high schools

Justification of the study

Community service is able to amend the troubled relationship between the youth and the society where adults see them as selfish and self-indulging if they are helped to understand the situation through research. Community service will become a major contributing factor in social capital in these hard economic times and therefore, the need to understand it.

Significance of the study

The findings and recommendations of the study will help the policymakers in formulating policies to involve the youth in high schools in community service activities beneficial to them and the community. The study will also help guide the stakeholders in the implementation of such policies and help create public awareness of the need for youth service. The study can also be replicated elsewhere where mandatory community service for high schools will be introduced. The study will also propose further study areas.

Literature review

The World Health Organization defines youth as a person between the ages of 12 years to 25 years. Community service, on the other hand, can be said to be an action performed by an individual, which benefits the community. This involves unpaid work for the good of the whole community. These include activities such as tutoring children, building homes in low-income areas, assisting the seniors, working in animal shelters, habitat restoration, volunteering in emergency services, environmental conservation, or helping in civic work among other positive activities in the community (Hyman, 1999).

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Community service is done out of a desire to help the community, and can also be out of the requirement for high school graduation or membership of an organization. Community service is also a form of punishment for petty offenders as an alternative to fines or jail terms. This can also be part of a prisoner’s rehabilitation program where they are required to undertake activities such as removing graffiti, planting trees, building a community facility in the supervision of prison officials (Hyman, 1999).

High school volunteerism and community service

This has increased in the United States in recent years due to the students seeking to boost their resumes with nonacademic activities and community service for their college admission. In some high schools, it is mandatory to give a certain number of hours to community service for graduation (Wade, 1997). This is mostly done by mission high schools which try to instill the values of their mission statements to the students.

High school volunteerism is a selfless community service in areas such as soup kitchens, helping facilitate Olympics and restoring habitats among others which attracts awards and affords students an opportunity to serve the needy. One such initiative is by former President John F. Kennedy who established the Peace Corps. This has given thousands of youths in America an opportunity to give their talents and time to those with the least such as the poor of Appalachia (Hyman, 1999).

Due to hard economic times, rising unemployment and homelessness, there are numerous types of community services the high school youths can engage in, as school clubs or by teaming with organizations such as UNICEF, Salvation Army and Goodwill. In these organizations, they can collect food, clothing items, fundraising drives for the poor in America and other countries. One example of a successful program is the ‘Invisible Children’ of Darfur, where students raise funds through drives, collect food and clothing for the children of the war-torn country of southern Sudan (Youniss & Yates, 1997).

Service-learning

This is an approach that ties the classroom curriculum with identified community needs or issues by engaging students in projects that serve the community and develop their social and academic abilities. This builds the student’s social, civic and academic skills. This approach has three components of preparation, where they learn about a certain concern and come up with an action plan; where they engage in significant service to the community and reflection, where students make an examination of their experiences in the field and make their presentations through discussions and writing journals. It is implemented in three methods. These are classroom-based projects, after-school projects and individual service with non-profit organizations (Wade, 1997).

Benefits of youth community service

Community service occupies the time the youth could have been engaged in risky behavior such as drug abuse, crime, sexual activities among others, which could lead to pregnancies out of wedlock, police arrests and time served in juvenile facilities, etc. A study was carried out by the Children Aid Society (CAS) Carrela program in 2007on a youth service program to reduce instances of risky behavior, pregnancy instances were reduced by half in over three years. In another study by the Youth Corps, it was indicated that 103 corps in 36 states in the USA annually enroll over 23,000 youth who contribute 12.9 million hours of service. Of these, 55% have no high school diploma and 64% come from families with income below the poverty line. The results were a 1/3 drop in arrest rates among the corps members, significant gains in employment and income and an out-of-wedlock drop in pregnancy rates (Banta, 2009).

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Community service fosters civic responsibilities among the youth. The youth involved are empowered to take part in solving a variety of community and country problems and needs. This way they come to recognize that individual and collective contribution can make a difference in the quality of life for the community, which is likely to be sustained into adulthood. In the same way, community service encourages identification and involvement in community institutions. This way the interrelationships between these institutions is well understood, which in turn will create a sense of importance in activities such as voting, political participation and activism (Waterman, 1997).

Youth community service provides chances to young people in high schools to acquire and horn skills, knowledge and values that can be used in their future careers and occupations and as responsible citizens. In well-designed community projects where the youths are allowed to take charge of the projects, they are able to horn leadership skills. They also learn to work together as a team and problem-solving skills (Harper, 2005).

Community service also allows the youth a chance to gain experience beyond the classroom and home. Through the experience they gain from the service, they gain exposure to community issues, problems and concerns that would not have been found at school or at home. These experiences shape their perspective on the community, themselves and life in general. This adds a positive dimension into their growing up to eventually become responsible and caring adults (Harper, 2005).

Communities, schools and organizations benefit in that, communities have a more positive attitude towards youths; schools report improved mutual respect between teachers and students, general school climate and cohesiveness; improved services to clients and the general community for those organizations using student services. They also report improved capability to implement new projects and experience the good relationship between them and schools (Banta, 2009).

Community service benefits the community by fostering good governance values as the youth are prepared to be good leaders and encourages to work for the greater needs. This also supports issues identified as national priorities such as employment, natural disasters and childhood literacy among others. An example is the Pakistan National Youth Service Program which has managed to mobilize community members and collect data for Universal Primary Education Program, a partnership with the district government and UNICEF. It has also established a theater group for education and outreach and operates a youth-led center for orphans. This has resulted in improving the literacy of more than 1500 women at 50 adult literacy centers and provided 314 orphans literacy and computer training (Wade, 1997).

Cost of the community youth service in high schools

Mandatory high school volunteer community service creates negative attitudes among the youth which results in fewer students engaging in community service in the future. In a study carried out on the impacts on student’s attitudes and behavior regarding civic engagement as a result of Ontario’s mandatory high school community service program, 32% of forced “Volunteers” continued to volunteer after school while 68 did not compare to 80% of willing ‘volunteers’ who continued to volunteer and 20% who did not (Hyman, 1999).

Another cost of community services to the students is the loss of time for other engagements such as homework and family commitments to community service. They reduce the time for part-time paying jobs thereby affecting family earnings, time for homework and family time for youths and for young people from underprivileged areas payment for services rendered is a concern they raise (Rhoads, 1997).

The benefits of youth community service to both the youth and the community greatly outweigh the costs. However, in order to ensure the success of community projects for the youths, some essential components are to be considered according to Harper, (2005). These include

Age Appropriate projects

The age and stage of the youths involved are in effect the type of projects that can be implemented. The project should be challenging for that particular group yet not too difficult to discourage them.

Projects should be youth-driven

The involved youth should be allowed to take charge and ownership of the project from the initial stages up to the end. This helps them to nurture their leadership skills. Adults should realize that youth taking leadership of the projects may not always lead to expected or successful results. This is to enable them to learn from the experience they gain as they try to overcome the difficulties they encounter on the way. The ideas the adults may have should only be suggested and let the youth take charge. Adults taking a back seat show the youths that they have confidence in their skills, strengths and abilities which motivate them toil be responsible.

The project should meet identified community need

Youths are sometimes sheltered from community needs and may only consider the issues that are visible to them. They, therefore, need to be encouraged to look beyond their personal experiences to the less obvious concerns of the community. They could seek more information from community groups involved in areas such as health. They can also be encouraged to partner with these groups.

Partnership with a community organization

The youths should be encouraged to seek partnership with an organization in the community. Youths always know what they want but, how to go about it is always a challenge. The community organization bridges that gap by offering the necessary guidance and training. The organizations also appreciate and provide feedback from the project, which is important to the youths.

Involvement of service recipients

When the project service recipients are involved, the youths are motivated and afford them a great experience, which is encouraging. Also when they are exposed to a diverse community, a sense of empathy and understanding is developed.

Reflection

This involves reviewing the experiences of a service project. This allows the youth to develop an understanding of the experience and be able to apply it in the future. Harper, (2005) continues to say that this stage gives a project meaning by tying service to real-life; challenging youth’s awareness and attitudes; connecting the youths with the concerns of the community, and showing how the youths can be agents of positive change.

Methodology

The study will use qualitative methodology by examining the experiences and views of teachers and parents on high school community service from two different schools, one in the upper-class district and the other in the lower-class district in New York. To do this I will administer questionnaires to a sample of two teachers from each school and two parents one from each school. The study will get data from documented sources such as books, journals, published research papers and the internet. Primary data will be from interviews with students and analysis of questionnaires from teachers and parents.

Reference

Banta, L.S. (2009). Assessing Student Learning: A Common Sense Guide. Nolpe Monograph Series, Volume 63, Issue 63. Education Law Association.

Camp Fire USA. (2005). Impacts of Service Learning. Web. 

Harper Stacy. (2005). Building Youths Through Community Service: A Report. West Virginia University Extension Services. Web.

Hyman, R.T. (1999). Mandatory community service in high school: the legal dimension. John Wiley and Sons.

Rhoads, R. A. (1997). Community service and higher learning: explorations of the caring self. Suny Press.

Wade, R.C, (1997). Community Service-Learning: A Guide to Including Service in the Public School Curriculum. State University of New York Press.

Waterman, A. S. (1997). Service-Learning: Application from the Research. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Youniss, J & Yates, M. (1997). Community Service and Social Responsibility in Youth. University of Chicago Press.

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