EDITORIAL: Community service must be a priority

"In Our Own Bubble" by Brynne Barnard-Bahn

Think Critically. Live Creatively. Act Compassionately. That is the core mission statement of Sacramento Country Day School, and for the most part, the administration and students uphold it. However, we must improve on one front: service for the greater Sacramento community.

As it stands, Country Day requires high schoolers to complete a certain number of community service hours to graduate. 

Traditionally, that number has been  50; however, with the outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent period of quarantine, that number was modified for impacted classes.

Now, the current sophomores must complete 37.5 hours, the current juniors 25 and the current seniors only 12.5. For the freshmen class, the requirement is back to 50. 

Now, these numbers themselves are not necessarily the problem. Although the 50-hour requirement is less than half of Cristo Rey High School’s 115 hours and Sacramento Waldorf School’s 120 hours, the requirement is ultimately just a minimum. If students choose, they may far exceed it.

Thus, it is not the requirement itself that warrants concern, but the general lack of discussion surrounding community service, something some attribute to the pandemic.

“When I was a freshman, I remember there were these upperclassmen that led these great nonprofit and community clubs which the school really supported,” senior Savanna Karmue said. 

Karmue is referring to alumni Bri Davies, ’21, and her nonprofit, Generation Great, formed for the purpose of tutoring underserved students. 

“At the time, her club was really active within the Country Day community, and the school really put a great emphasis on it. So, I thought the school had a great focus on community service,” Karmue said. “But, as soon as we got to COVID-19, it died down. I did not see nearly the same aspect and emphasis the school brought before COVID-19.”

Today, Country Day offers high schoolers the opportunity to join a community service elective where they can volunteer in-house every other day for an hour. That and annual fundraisers like the Play-a-thon and Run to Feed the Hungry account for the majority of community service opportunities at Country Day.

But, that should not be the case. Community service is far too important to be neglected. Students should be regularly supporting the greater Sacramento community.

According to research conducted by the Corporation for National and Community Service, students who engage in community service regularly gain a deeper understanding of local issues, develop a stronger sense of civic duty and have a sense of purpose and direction that proves beneficial as they navigate the challenges of high school and beyond.

Specifically, community service allows high school students and young adults to explore their passions and interests, while making a positive impact on their communities.

On top of that, that same CNCS study found community service can improve students’ academic and career prospects. The study revealed that students who volunteer have shown to achieve dramatically higher grades, test scores and graduation rates, along with a 27% boost of finding jobs compared to students who do not. 

Not to mention, community service does more to a students’ physical and mental health than most would think. 

In a research study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, it was empirically revealed that participation in community service was linked to a decrease in depression rates, an increase in overall satisfaction with life and an improved physical well-being.

Aside from benefits reaped by the volunteer, volunteering betters the greater community by providing valuable labor. 

In fact, a joint study by Independent Sector, a coalition of nonprofits, foundations and corporations,  and the Do Good Institute estimated that the average value of one volunteer hour in America in 2021 was $29.95. In California, it was $35.56.

Of course, a dollar amount cannot indicate the true value of volunteer work, but it does begin to quantify just how valuable volunteers are, particularly for nonprofits and agencies that serve the disadvantaged populations.

Volunteer work is a must, and to some degree, Country Day realizes that.

Prior to the pandemic, Country Day established a five-year plan that began in 2018. 

“In the second pillar, the first goal was to implement a campus wide service learning program that contributed to the greater good of local and global communities and provided students opportunities to build life skills,” Head of School Lee Thomsen said, paraphrasing the report. 

To begin this process, the school established a committee to create a proposal. With the COVID-19 outbreak, that committee’s plans were postponed.

“At some point, I would love to have a service learning program at Country Day,” Thomsen  said.

Service learning differs from traditional community service requirements in that it encourages students to both engage and reflect as part of their curriculum.

At Country Day, Thomsen said he envisions a service learning program that begins in the lower school, but  would require the school to hire a specialist to oversee the program.

With other programs like the Academic Resource Center requiring more immediate support, the plan to create a service learning program has fallen down on the list of priorities.

However, there are still ways for the school, at the very least the high school, to further encourage community service.

For starters, the school can modify the Sophomore Project to include a volunteer component. 

Traditionally, the project requires sophomores to select a topic related to the Sacramento area that they will then research. At the end of the research process, they write a paper and then present their findings.

A requirement of the research is to conduct an interview. 

Moving forward, the school should consider requiring students to also engage directly with the material via volunteering.

For instance, a student researching advancements in medicine might volunteer with the Ronald McDonald House. A student researching food insecurity might volunteer with the Sacramento Food Bank.

Whatever it may be, students would undoubtedly receive a greater understanding by engaging directly with the subject matter.

 Additionally, the high school can further encourage involvement with the greater Sacramento area by adding an amendment to the current community service requirement. 

Rather than allowing students to complete all their hours at Country Day or over a short period of time, the administration should enforce a yearly quota of hours to be completed  with an organization outside of the school.

If students are volunteering regularly, at the very least annually, community service the entire school will see the service as an ongoing commitment rather than a one-time requirement. 

As discussions about next year begin, both students and the school should consider placing additional emphasis on community service. Only then can we truly think critically, live creatively and act compassionately.

— By Staff

Originally published in the Feb. 8 edition of The Octagon

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