Seniors face community service

Published 11:23 pm Friday, December 23, 2016

With only about half of their senior year to go, most Suffolk Public Schools seniors haven’t completed a requirement of graduation.

This year’s senior class is the first required by Suffolk Public Schools to complete 50 hours of community service. But with about six months left, most have yet to start it.

As of the Nov. 10 School Board meeting, fewer than 50 percent of students had even started earning their hours. Only about 22 percent have completed the requirement.

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“A lot of people just wait until the last minute, unfortunately, just like adults do,” superintendent Dr. Deran Whitney told the School Board at the November meeting. “Our task is to try to push them and provide opportunities.”

Students are supposed to complete service hours, get a supervisory person to sign off on the hours, write a reflection on the things they gained from the experience and log the hours with the school.

The school division recommended students divide the hours, roughly equally, into their freshman, sophomore and junior years, so they would have one fewer thing to worry about during their senior year.

But that clearly hasn’t happened for the majority of students. So the school division is looking at a variety of measures to push students to meet the requirement.

Dr. Stenette Byrd III, director of secondary leadership, said at the November School Board meeting that the three high schools were looking at providing community service hours at school on Saturdays during the spring. Students would help clean up the school and grounds and help with beautification projects, for example.

Some schools are already providing in-school opportunities, he added.

Counselors and career planning coaches also are talking to students about the requirement. An email reminder has been sent to all high school students. And administrators have planned to send a notice with report cards and discuss the issue during PTA meetings.

School Board member Linda Bouchard said she has heard from some parents who object to the requirement.

“There are parents I’ve heard from that I don’t think fully understand this concept,” she said. She asked what would happen if a senior did not meet the requirement.

But Byrd said school administrators don’t intend to let that happen.

“We have no intentions of waiting until the last minute to know that a student isn’t going to meet the requirement,” he said. “Just as with any other graduation requirement, SOL, classroom performance, we know when students are at the point where it looks like they may not pass a class, and we’re putting some interventions in place.”

School Board member David Mitnick asked whether a letter can be mailed to parents of students who have not met the requirement. That way, it might be more likely to reach them, he said.

School Board members added that community service benefits teens in a number of ways. It looks better on college applications and helps students compete for scholarships.

Byrd noted that it is beneficial even for those not headed to college.

“Showing that you are involved in your community makes yourself more marketable in any category,” he said.