Service to be required for graduation

Published 10:13 pm Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Suffolk public school students could be drumming up support for political candidates or selling Girl Scout cookies to qualify for graduation under new requirements endorsed by the School Board, an administrator says.

At last week’s meeting, School Board members unanimously endorsed revisions to graduation rules, including adding a mandatory community service requirement.

Coordinator of High School Instruction Phyllis Sharpe said the revisions would take effect only with approval from the Virginia Department of Education, whose board is expected to vote on them in June.

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Department approval is required as the new graduation rules go “above and beyond” the basic rules, Sharpe said.

Math skills of at least Algebra I level, proficiency in both computer use and scientific concepts and processes in at least two disciplines, and essential skills in personal finance would also be new graduation requirements.

“If passed … the students (who are) currently eighth-graders, when they enter school next year, they would be required to complete 50 hours of community service between ninth grade and the end of their senior year,” Sharpe said.

Under the district’s intended structure, students would complete 16 hours of community service in ninth grade and 17 hours each in 10th and 11th grades, leaving more time during their senior year to complete academic requirements.

Suffolk Public Schools students traditionally have been encouraged to improve their résumés by volunteering in the community, Sharpe said. Already, completing 50 hours and meeting certain other requirements can earn a student the department’s Board of Education Diploma Seal for Excellence in Civics Education.

“It’s been something that has been encouraged across the division” in an effort to make students “more well-rounded,” Sharpe explained.

“They could work on political campaigns or extracurricular activities that are focused on the community.”

Sharpe said administrators already have met with representatives of some community organizations to discuss the plan, a process she says will continue over the summer.

“We will come up with a memorandum of understanding over the summer about what’s expected of the students, so that the guidelines will be set for the students in the fall,” she said.

The district looked at whether community service graduation requirements occur elsewhere in the state before going ahead with the plan, Sharpe said.

A few other districts throughout the state already require community service for graduation, according to a Virginia Department of Education report last fall.

Martinsville requires 40 hours community service for graduation, and within the Richmond district, Richmond Community High School and Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School for Government and International Studies require 75 and 140 hours, respectively.

Suffolk parents will learn more about the requirements during transition activities and will receive updates throughout the year, Sharpe said.