Manchester Valley High School juniors, from left, Sommer Smith, Georgia Wagner, Roger Tabler, and Alex Spinnichio spread mulch in front of the school during National Honor Society Student Service Day Friday, Oct 3.
Manchester Valley High School juniors, from left, Sommer Smith, Georgia Wagner, Roger Tabler, and Alex Spinnichio spread mulch in front of the school during National Honor Society Student Service Day Friday, Oct 3. (DAVE MUNCHSTAFF PHOTO, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Carly Simpson pats her gloves together to remove some of the dirt. Simpson and her friend Georgia Wagner then grabbed a large black bucket of mulch and poured it onto the flower bed in front of Manchester Valley High School Friday afternoon.

Although Simpson, 15, a junior, has completed the state-mandated service learning hours to graduate from high school next school year, she joined the school in the National Honor Society Service Day.

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Wagner, also a junior, is still working toward her mandated hours.

"I was volunteering at a therapeutic riding center, but I can't do that anymore because they moved," said Wagner, who needs to log 20 hours.

The National Honor Society Service Day is one way students around Carroll County are working toward completing their mandated hours.

Since 1992, Maryland public school students have been required to earn a minimum of 75 hours of service learning before graduation.

Maryland was the first state in the country to require high school students to engage in service learning activities as a condition of graduation, according to the Maryland Department of Education.

Today, most school districts across the nation have requirements for service learning hours.

Wagner, 16, who wants to be a veterinarian, said she looked for service learning opportunities based on her goal of helping animals.

"It's easy if you go to the right places," Wagner said. "You are going to need some experience anyway."

While Friday's activities of tending to the school's garden do not directly align with Wagner's goals for the future, Wagner, along with all the students at Manchester Valley, logged two and a half hours of service hours during the afternoon project.

Another group of students helped clear a wooded area at the outdoor classroom beside Manchester Valley High School.

Science, technology, engineering and math academy leader Rusty LaMotte showed a dozen students how to clear away English Ivy, which was invading the tree space in the woods near the outdoor classroom and killing trees.

The ivy had engulfed the greenery around an entire hill.

"You see the size of this project – it wouldn't be possible without these kids helping out," LaMotte said.

According to Kristie Troutman, academic facilitator at Manchester Valley High, the schools emphasize the learning aspect of service learning.

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"It's not just go out and work, but what you can learn from it," she said.

According to the Carroll County Public Schools' website, service learning is a teaching method combining meaningful service to the community with curriculum-based learning. Students are urged to apply their school education with the real world.

Students may begin completing their service hours starting the summer after fifth grade and must complete 55 service learning hours by the end of 11th grade to be promoted to senior status.

According to the CCPS website, service learning teaches students to make a difference in the community through actions of citizenship.

While completing service learning hours, students will identify projects and learning skills, take action and then reflect through discussion or a writing prompt on the Service Learning Reflection form, said Margaret Pfaff, director of curriculum and instructional resources.

In the reflection form, students detail why they chose a particular project, their responsibilities during the project, how their actions benefited the community and if they would select the project again.

Selecting a location

Students can volunteer and log service learning hours at a nonprofit or for-profit location, but it's often tricky to select a for-profit, said Pfaff.

Each middle and high school has a service learning coordinator who keeps track of hours and maintains a list of potential sites where students can volunteer to fulfill their requirements, she said.

Often nonprofits will contact the service learning coordinator with opportunities for students, Pfaff said. The coordinators compile lists and make those opportunities available to students.

Student can also visit the school system's website to see a list of pre-approved service learning sites.

Nonprofit agencies such as Human Services Programs, senior centers, The Shepherd's Staff, soup kitchens and the Salvation Army are all pre-approved.

Students can also become involved in extra- or co-curricular clubs such as Key Club and Builder's Club.

Students can also volunteer at for-profit sites, but they must meet specific criteria. A student's volunteering cannot be in lieu of a paid position, Pfaff said, or something that would save the company money.

"Students can't just volunteer at Walmart," said Pfaff. "They have to show how the hours they spent contribute to the community. It's a emphasis on service to the community, not to a specific organization."

"I would hope if [students] are looking to do something in particular and didn't know [if it met the guidelines] they would see the service learning coordinator in the building so they could get some guidance up front."

Academics infused

Students can also log service-learning hours by enrolling in and successfully competing prescribed courses with service-learning components.

In middle school, students receive 10 hours for completing Outdoor School and another 10 for completing an approved environmental project while there.

Middle-schoolers can also enroll in the eighth-grade family and consumer sciences and the learning for independence job readiness class to earn hours.

There are 14 classes at the high school level where students can earn 10 hours including math aide, newspaper production, issues in American society and applied art.

Students can also earn hours by taking advanced laboratory child development, aquatic environmental science, child development laboratory, government and terrestrial environmental science.

The Carroll County Career and Technology Center also offers service learning hours for various classes based on the levels of the courses.

"Some of the [substitution] courses are geared toward working with other students and providing a service to other students in the building, such as the math aide or media assistant," said Pfaff.

More than 75

While 75 hours is the minimum, Pfaff said a handful of students go above and beyond each year.

Students who earn a minimum of 300 hours by May 1 of their senior year receive the Exemplary Service Award upon graduation.

There are often a few students who earn 1,000 hours, Pfaff said.

Many schools also have various awards and assemblies to recognize students who have obtained more than the minimum number of hours, Pfaff said.

Reach staff writer Krishana Davis at 410-857-7862 or krishana.davis@carrollcountytimes.com.

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