Community service has increasingly been made a graduation requirement of schools in the New York area, with Hunter College High School maintaining a minimum service quota of seventy-five hours. While such protocol is well-intentioned, it is a concern that students do not recognize the value in the work they do, completing hours to meet predetermined requirements without truly appreciating their worth. However, I believe that the fundamentally positive nature of community service is evident in that many students do sincerely respect and enjoy the tasks they commit themselves to, acknowledging the advantages of having to meet a compulsory standard. By setting such expectations, not only can schools help prepare for an important aspect of college applications, but they can also help students learn more about themselves and the ways it is possible for them to help the less fortunate. Students are pushed and assisted so that they can determine specific interests, humanitarian and otherwise. The time they spend volunteering demonstrates their capability of contributing to the local and broader community, even as younger citizens.
For teenagers especially, the value of community service can be multifaceted. Volunteer work can resonate with you personally, allow the extension of aid to those in need of it, and contribute to well rounded college applications. While sometimes, students take on volunteering tasks which are ultimately boring and one-dimensional to fulfill their credit requirement, potential benefits across the spectrum of service work include experience in a professional workspace and preparation for stricter expectations before attending university. It can also help cultivate communication between students from different schools, and nurture a lifelong sense of empathy and obligation through the connections they build to varying causes.
Furthermore, while such a demand might seem forceful and meaningless without the guaranteed interest of the individual, it can easily be ensured that students are able to do valuable volunteer work which they find engaging and gratifying. Accessibility can be a factor integral to participation in community service, and it is not an obstacle for the majority of our student body. For most of us, information about all types of volunteering opportunities is easily available, as invites to events are circulated widely on social network sites (primarily Facebook). Additionally, school provides another effective medium through which students can learn of and choose service activities which interest them. For example, Hunter has various clubs and organizations such as Hunter Action Against Hunger and Key Club which offer occasions for community service. Through options such as these, the school helps students to complete their required hours in an enjoyable fashion and, if they wish, go on to do more.
If students can’t manage volunteer work during the school year or want to continue volunteering, summer vacation provides a window of about two months during which they can serve. I personally am grateful that two summers ago I was able to volunteer for Hunter’s summer school program, building skills such as organizational ability, helping officials/teachers to create a successful learning environment for younger learners, and making new friends. Many more otherwise unoccupied students use vacation time without regret to offer their abilities for generous purposes. Recently, in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity, a program which facilitates the building of homes for low-income families by homeowners and volunteers, Hunter hosted a Summer Service Trip.
Mr. Butts, who coordinated the trip, pointed out the impact community service can have on one’s perspective, saying, “Undoubtedly, many learned hands-on skills that they didn’t have prior to the trip, but I think most people had experiences that changed the way they look at some things, even in a minor way”. Senior Krishna Shah spoke positively of the trip, remarking that she appreciated it for a multitude of reasons: “I feel as though this was one of the best experiences of my life. Not only did I get to help the community there, but I also grew in a personal sense. The trip was a great opportunity for me to live in a way I usually would not, and I was also given more responsibility.” She also believed greater awareness of opportunities such as this event would foster more genuine interest in community service from students, explaining, “If more trips like this one is offered at Hunter, I’d definitely recommend it to other students because I left with valuable knowledge and life experience I don’t think I would have been able to get from elsewhere.” As her testament firmly suggests, instead of being a superficial undertaking, service can be a unique cause of self-improvement and maturity.
Though students can be skeptical of the true value that lies with mandatory community service, proper measures taken by schools to maximize interest, combined with natural curiosity, can result in a foundation for prolonged involvement with volunteering. Beneficial both personally and practically, the initiative can affect students in positive ways so that they no longer regard it as a burden, and instead utilize it to better become active, giving members of society.
Fatin Chowdhury, Age 16, Grade 10, Hunter College High School, Silver Key