Service Hours at Latin: Is Our Requirement Too Demanding?

Cameron Cozzi As the school year comes to an end, most underclassmen will be completing their final hours of community service in order to fulfill their requirement for the year. However, as the freshmen and sophomores reach their 10 and 20 hour respective requirements, some may question: is the number of hours of direct service required of underclassmen is too demanding? And, after having completed 30 hours of service in the first two years of high school, why do Latin’s upperclassmen have no service requirement at all? Ms. Bunger, Latin’s Service Learning Coordinator, informed me that Latin’s service requirement was not always structured the way it is today. About ten years ago, Latin required each sophomore to complete 40 hours of service over the course of the year – leaving freshmen, juniors, and seniors without any requirement. Other schools, such as Lab, still implement this structure. Ms. Bunger explained that the reason why Latin only required sophomores to complete service was because “they thought the college process was so difficult for juniors and seniors that they didn’t want to add an extra burden” on the upperclassmen, and they believed that requiring service of freshmen was adding a similar burden given that many freshmen are still acclimating to high school throughout their first year. And, Ms. Bunger added, it was required that at least 30 of the hours be completed with the same organization. However, when Ms. Bunger was hired – initially as a full-time English teacher who helped coordinate service as an extracurricular – the school decided that 40 hours of service may be too demanding over the course of one year. So, they moved to the system that Latin students are familiar with today – one in which freshmen have to complete ten hours, while sophomores have to complete 20. This system, Ms. Bunger explained, was created in order to allow freshmen to become used to completing direct service while not overwhelming them with too demanding of a requirement to fulfill. Then, once students reach sophomore year and have become acclimated to Latin’s service program, they are given a more demanding requirement. Compared to schools such as Parker, who recently got rid of their service requirement, Latin’s mandatory 30 hours of direct service may seem challenging – especially considering that most Latin students have very busy schedules. But, in allowing students to complete this requirement over the course of the first two years of high school – both of which have a lighter workload than later years– Latin makes this graduation requirement manageable. And, although Latin mandates that the service must be direct – a rule which eliminates some means of service which may interest students – Ms. Bunger explained that she believes that this rule upholds the integrity of the program. But, even if the requirement for underclassmen has become more manageable over the years, some may still wonder: why don’t the upperclassmen have to complete service, too? Ms. Bunger indicated that it is not because of the college process, but rather because Latin simply hasn’t reconsidered the possibility of having a requirement for upperclassmen yet. For some, the lack of a requirement in the final years of high school may feel relieving as it means that students have one less thing to add to their schedule. However, does the absence of a requirement encourage upperclassmen to avoid service all together? Fortunately, Ms. Bunger explained, there are still many upperclassmen at Latin who have found time for service in their schedule and have remained committed to engaging with the community. Junior Natalie Wexler explained that she believes the key to service is for people to “find something that they love and will be doing throughout their life”, and notes that to her service does not always have to be about the number of hours you do. Ms. Bunger also explained that Latin is considering new ways to acknowledge students who complete service outside of the requirement – including those who complete indirect service. Additionally, Ms. Bunger noted that many colleges and universities have also recently explored new ways to incentivize community engagement for applicants and students. While Latin’s service learning program may not be perfect in the eyes of all students, the school has done a good job of creating a requirement that makes service manageable for the student body and – hopefully – encourages students to continue engaging with the community long after it is required. ]]>