New assignment

August 06, 1991

The state Board of Education has taken an innovative step by making community service work a requirement for high school graduation beginning in the 1993-94 school year.

The new mandate is a long-needed recognition on the part of the state that a good education is far more than mastery of written and verbal skills and mathematical formulas -- that it also involves learning basic values like compassion, decency and involvement. Certainly there is no surer way to teach young people such abstract principles than to give them a chance to work with the poor and the sick or to experience, firsthand, a piece of their community's cultural or political life. There are, of course, immense personal benefits that accrue from community service work as well -- students gain a critical sense of self-worth and self-esteem as respected, and important, members of the community, and they get a chance to explore vocational interests.

The Board of Education wisely did not make the requirement so onerous as to interfere with students' after-school jobs or family responsibilities. Students need only put in 75 hours of community service work over four years, which amounts to just under two hours a month during each of 10 academic months. That's hardly burdensome, but it is enough time to learn some important lessons.

It took political courage, no doubt, for the board to institute such ground-breaking reform: With the new mandate, Maryland becomes the first state in the nation to require community service for high school graduation. Now that state officials have taken the lead, however, it is incumbent on every secondary school in Maryland to make available to students an array of community services options and provide proper guidance in making choices so that each can gain the full benefit of this potentially enriching experience.

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