Student service corps

November 01, 1991

Former state School Superintendent Joseph Shilling is right on target in urging that community service programs are $$TC valuable tool for teaching civic responsibility and that such programs ought to be part of all students' educational experience. The state board of education recently held hearings on a proposal to make some form of community service mandatory for all Maryland students, and while there are many details to be worked out, the service proposal in some form should be adopted.

Hardly anyone disputes the value of community service. What is at issue is how best to structure such a requirement so that it doesn't become an impediment, rather than an aid, to the schools filling their academic mission.

No one wants to see, for example, schools bogged down in the endless paperwork and red tape some warn could result from requiring school officials to administer a mandatory community service program. And obviously the issue of how students would be transported to and from their service site could pose problems in areas where public transportation is limited.

But most anticipated problems of a statewide community service requirement probably could be resolved relatively quickly if Maryland adopted some form of the model used by Atlanta's public schools. There, students themselves -- rather than the principals and teachers -- assume primary responsibility for locating organizations to work with and for documenting their participation in the program. That arrangement also leaves school personnel free to concentrate on their main academic mission.

The point is that none of these is an insurmountable problem -- as attested to by the fact that thousands of students already are participating in voluntary service programs across the state. Most programs have worked well. The gloom and doom scenarios critics fear simply have not materialized in the programs that already exist, and with careful planning there is no reason the idea couldn't be expanded statewide with equal success.

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