Service: For Empathy or College Applications?

By Ella Katz unnamed-3 Whether it is taking the CTA to Inspiration cafe with Alex Moreno or a group of students walking to the North Avenue beach to pick up trash, underclassmen have an annual service requirement of either ten or twenty hours. But it is not just freshman and sophomores who do community service; many juniors and seniors are heads of these Latin service committees. Now, we are all thinking the same thing here: Are Latin students (myself included) doing this service so that they can adjust the way that they approach their life and create long lasting bonds with people from different backgrounds and organizations? Or, on the contrary, are students at Latin doing their hours simply because of the requirement with no empathic feelings in the process, or even worse, for their college applications? The Forum started off by going to speak with Ms. Bunger, one of the service coordinators at Latin. We gave her insight as to what this article concerned and she responded by saying,  “I guess I have a lot to say about how Latin approaches community service. In the first place, one of the reasons we have required hours for freshman and sophomores is that high schoolers at Latin are off-the-charts busy. To expect that students will donate their precious time towards service when it’s not required is just unrealistic.” What Ms. Bunger said could not be more true. It isn’t that we don’t care about feeding the homeless in Uptown or doing art projects with the third graders at McCutcheon, it’s actually quite the opposite. It’s just that we all know ourselves, and we know that we will keep putting the service off because we have a biology test in two days and a paper due in three. There is seemingly always something more important than service. Something that is “due first” where we unfortunately can seldom prioritize what actually matters in this world—helping ourselves to open our eyes but more important than that, helping to resolve some of the huge problems in this world. Ms. Bunger continued by saying, “Of course, there will always be a very small percentage of students at Latin who complete their service requirement and truly get nothing out of it, feel nothing during their hours, gain zero empathy, etc. But with these kids, who’s to say how this experience will translate for them down the road when they encounter a similar situation. Yes, most Latin students are doing their service hours because of the requirement, but they do end up getting a lot out of it.” To make sure Mrs. Bunger was correct on her last point, but mostly out of curiosity, I went and spoke with a few students to get their perspective on the topic. One student said, “Obviously 95% of students at Latin do service because of the requirement. But I will speak on behalf of that 95% and say that all of us gain something from these tedious hours. Whether it be something as simple as a smile to brighten up our day, or a long lasting relationship with a partner school and their students, I can confidently say that the majority of us gets something out of service, whether we like to admit it or not.” Another student claimed, “Obviously service hours are a part of high school that everyone just has to ‘get done,’ but I do think that we all become more caring and warm-hearted through our hours completed.” After this helpful information check, I went back to Ms. Bunger to follow up. She finished by telling The Forum, “Honestly, there are so many parents and faculty and staff who volunteer throughout the year and are not required to do so. There is definitely a number who are doing it because they want to, not because they have to. To sum up, I can never force or guarantee empathy; someone to try to be empathetic and understanding of someone else’s situation, but the first step towards something along those lines is putting them in someone else’s shoes where they can begin to feel someone else’s experience.”   My conversation with Ms. Bunger reinforced that doing community service is very important, as there is so much need in this world and so many people that can give a helping hand. However, it is crucial to ensure that we are doing this service, giving this help, in the right way. By the right way, I mean to say that we are doing it with the mindset of helping others, trying to be our best selves and assisting to improve upon the world, and we are not completing the hours simply because of the requirement, or even worse, so that we can have an extra line to write on our college application. So does service actually make us more empathetic and caring? Does it allow us to take a step back and realize that there is so much we can do to help, yet so little time to do it? I don’t know. Really, I don’t. All I can say is that it is no longer in the hands of the service coordinators or rather, Mr. Dunn— far from it. It is up to you! ]]>