Just what constitutes student service?
Performing in the school band, playing on a football team or working as an office aide does not, according to the community service curriculum developed by the Maryland Student Service Alliance.
Visiting the elderly, tutoring younger children or the illiterate, promoting awareness on the issue of drug abuse, or any other way of "making a difference through acts of caring," does.
But under the state proposal, it will be up to local school districts to make the call. Though educators and experts agree the ideal service program would incorporate service into existing classes, using it as a hands-on way of teaching math, English and social studies, localities can opt for simpler models that require no extra money and little extra effort.
For pointers, state officials suggest looking at the varied, but successful, service programs around the state.
At Wicomico High School, in Salisbury, about 20 teachers are trying the concept of "service learning" for the first time this year. An English teacher, for example, might have students serve food at a soup kitchen and write an essay on the topic. At Richard Montgomery HighSchool in Rockville, students take a semester-long course in which they plan a community service project, carry it out, and discuss their experiences every Friday.
At South River High School in Anne Arundel County, three teachers and a cadre of student volunteers have built a vibrant community service program on their own time. Students develop and teach elementary school lessons on the environment, work as classroom aides, tutor their peers, collect items for the needy and visit the local nursing home. They've boycotted foam products, leading to a recycling program at the school. They lobby the General Assembly. Earlier this month, they protested the governor's budget cuts.
"Our school has been transformed," says social studies teacher Shelley Finkelstein, who with teachers Obie Tucker and Mark Coover sponsors the programs. "There's a lot of school spirit. The kids are involved."
At Canton Middle School in Baltimore, principal Craig Spillman has shaved six hours a semester from the regular curriculum so that all 750 students can do community service projects.
Last week, sixth-graders were busy sweeping up garbage from O'Donnell Square as part of their service activities. The work teaches them responsibility, said teacher Lou Williams. "They're not learning any of this at home," he said.
Besides, said 11-year-old Crystal Wrobleski, "It's fun to, like, clean up the environment. I think it's neat."
In guidance counselor Bailey Truman's class that day, 15 sixth-grade girls described their project: collecting used suitcases to donate to the city department of social services.
They adopted the project after Mr. Truman, a foster parent, told them children in the foster program carry their clothes in a garbage bag because they have no suitcases.
People donating suitcases get a garbage bag in return, wrapped up and topped with letters laboriously handwritten by the girls, who sign themselves "The Canton Fly Girls."
Ranell Hopkins, 13, hints at the lesson learned. "There's this man at the corner, and he's homeless, and he has a lot of trash bags. When he asks people for quarters, they just say they don't have one, even though they do. During this week, somebody should go up to him and give him a suitcase too."
The State Board of Education will vote Nov. 20 on toughening state graduation requirements. Here are highlights of the proposed changes, which would take effect with incoming ninth-graders in 1993:
* Mandating 75 hours of community service which can start as early as sixth-grade.
* Increasing the number of credits needed for graduation from 20 to 21 and increasing the number of those courses which are prescribed from 15 to 19 for college-bound students and 21 for students planning to work after high school. Now students can take five elective courses to meet their credit requirements.
* Increasing the number of required mathematics credits from three to four and mandating that two of the credits be algebra and geometry.
* Increasing the number of social studies credits from three to four and mandating one credit each in U.S. history, world history and government and one-half credit each in geography and economics.
* Requiring a new technology education credit, but eliminating the current one credit in industrial arts, home economics, computer studies or vocational education.
* Requiring students to choose a path preparing them for work after high school or one preparing them for college or other study. College-bound students would have to take two credits in a foreign language or advanced technology courses. Students planning to work would have to complete a four-credit state-approved career and technology program.
* Students would continue to take four credits in English, two in science, one credit in fine arts and one in physical education.