2 seniors earn extra credit in service learning

Kristopher Buckler, Kevin Costin go beyond state requirements

June 04, 2006|By DAVID P. GREISMAN | DAVID P. GREISMAN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

On Kristopher Buckler's first day with Reggie, he repeatedly instructs the 9-month-old golden retriever to rest - one of several basic commands the playful puppy will have to master during months of guide-dog training.

Until Reggie is 18 months old, it will be Buckler's duty to familiarize him with different environments, such as the Wal-Mart that they would visit later that evening to get the puppy accustomed to crowds and automatic doors.

With help from his family, Buckler will teach Reggie proper behavior and basic commands, preparing the dog for additional training with a professional guide dog instructor. The goal is to pair Reggie with a blind or visually impaired person by the time the dog is 22 months old.

"There's kind of always been a dog at our house that we're training, so when I became old enough, I started doing it, too," said Buckler, a senior at Winters Mill High in Westminster.

Buckler, 18, of Westminster, began training guide dogs when he was 9, the minimum age to raise puppies for the Morristown, N.J.-based Seeing Eye Inc.

He was inspired by his older sister - who raised guide dogs from 1992 to 2000 - and motivated by the idea that the dogs he trained would eventually help people.

When Buckler graduates Thursday, he will have accumulated 2,021 service learning hours through training dogs and volunteering with other organizations.

This week, about 2,200 Carroll County high school seniors will receive their diplomas, having completed a combined 362,652 service learning hours - an average of 165 service learning hours each, more than twice the minimum 75 hours required by the Maryland State Department of Education.

"That's a very impressive amount of hours that our students are contributing," said Estelle Sanzenbacher, coordinator of youth development and service learning for Carroll schools. "They show such a commitment to helping their communities and to helping others. It's impressive that they're handling all of their schoolwork in addition to volunteering in the community."

Kevin Costin, 18, of Mount Airy also worked with animals while completing some of his 1,290 service-learning hours. Aside from working as an emergency medical technician with the Mount Airy Volunteer Fire Department, he was a counselor and is now an intern for the Carroll County Outdoor School at Westminster's Hashawha Environmental Center.

"Kevin shows a great deal of interest in the raptors, the birds of prey that we have," said Steve Heacock, supervisor of the outdoor school. "He assists us sometimes in the evening programs when we do live raptor presentations, handling the birds, talking to the students about the natural history of the birds, what makes it special [and] conservation practices."

After leaving school early each day through the Career Connections program, Costin spent about 52 hours each week working at the outdoor school, setting up and cleaning up meals and classes, assisting with instruction and tending to plants.

"It's something I enjoy," said Costin, a senior at South Carroll High in Winfield. "I like being outside and helping kids learn how to conserve the environment."

Experts say the time and effort contributed by students like Buckler and Costin are valuable.

One volunteer hour was estimated last year to be worth $18.04, according to Independent Sector, a national coalition of charitable organizations.

The value, however, often extends beyond the financial to the personal.

Bonnie Lannom, who works as communications associate for Seeing Eye Inc., is blind. As such, she knows the work of the volunteers who raise and train guide dogs.

"It really helps the kids learn responsibility, and also it teaches them about doing a service that helps others," she said. "They're raising this puppy for a very important mission in life. Even though they have to give the puppy up, they know that they've done a very worthwhile thing."

Buckler and Costin recently were honored for their dedication to volunteering as two of the state's 43 Maryland Student Service Stars for 2006.

"They are role models for others and inspire other students and adults to become involved like them," said Jodi Lavin, service learning specialist for the State Department of Education.

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