Clock ticking on 'service learning' Class of '97: 10,000 juniors have made no progress toward graduation requirement.

March 21, 1996

A MERE 15 months before graduation, 10,000 high-school juniors in Maryland have made no progress toward getting their high-school diplomas in at least one key area: the state education department's requirement that students fulfill 75 hours community service.

After receiving reports last month on how students in each of the state's 24 school systems were faring, state Superintendent Nancy Grasmick's office quickly responded to help school systems that are falling behind. How Maryland, the only state with a community service component in its curriculum, handles these laggards will shape how seriously the requirement is taken. So will the outcome of a lawsuit filed by two students in North Carolina against their individual school system.

Nearly 30,000 of 46,000 11th graders in Maryland have not yet fulfilled their service standard, including the 10,000 noted above who have made no progress. School systems can remedy this by having built-in checkpoints as students progress through secondary school.

Anne Arundel County, for example, where almost 94 percent of juniors have fulfilled the requirement, is successful because students beginning in sixth grade must fulfill a certain amount of their requirement yearly.

Some systems are making strides to curb slackers. Last year, Carroll County after noting a number of its students were falling behind, decided that any incoming senior who had not done 55 hours of service must remain in an 11th-grade homeroom and could not attend senior-class activities. Harford County, which took the shortcut of integrating "service learning" into the classroom, reports that all its students are making strides toward their requirement. Baltimore city and county have the most pupils in jeopardy, with 87 percent and 41 percent respectively making no progress toward the requirement. Next year, Baltimore County will incorporate service into its curriculum.

We still believe in the educational value of community service. Whether mentoring younger students, reclaiming a local stream, visiting a nursing home or distributing vacuum cleaners to needy families, students can learn profound lessons about the world they inhabit. For those members of the class of '97 who have yet to take this program seriously, the clock is ticking.

Pub Date: 3/21/96

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