Maryland educators' desire to get more students involved with volunteer work in their communities gets a $2.8 million push from the federal government today.
A grant from the U.S. Commission on National and Community Service will make Maryland one of three states awarded grants in all three eligible program areas.
"It was a little bit of a surprise," said Nancy S. Grasmick, state superintendent of schools. "And another thing that's so exciting is that Maryland can be in the forefront and provide a national model. I think we're happy to be watched."
Pennsylvania and Massachusetts also received grants in the three program areas.
The grant is scheduled to be formally announced at noon today by Gov. William Donald Schaefer at the Carrie Murray Outdoor Education Center at Baltimore's Leakin Park. The governor is to be joined by Dr. Grasmick, Michael Camunez, project director for the U.S. commission, and Maryland Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.
The grant money will expand the Maryland Conservation Corps and community service education programs in schools. It also will pay for a new program to increase the number of people who volunteer in local and non-profit organizations.
Dr. Grasmick called the grant an opportunity to further the character education of Maryland youth, "so students are not only academically competent but also have a concern for others."
Educators hope that concern stays with students after high school and carries into their adult life, she added.
Community service also has proved to be an effective way to improve scholastic achievement in students with poor academic records, Dr. Grasmick said. Seeing and working with those who are disadvantaged helps students "have a realistic understanding, maybe for the first time, of why it's important to achieve in education," she said.
The grants "provide opportunities for young people to play an integral role in changing society for the better," Mr. Camunez said.
"Our programs enable them to be part of the solution, to learn the importance of citizenship and playing an active role in the community . . . I think it's an empowering process."
The service also creates an opportunity for people from different backgrounds to work together toward a common goal, he said.
"Living in a time of racial tension . . . these community services really provide the glue that brings people together."
Maryland submitted a plan with a compelling vision of community service, Mr. Camunez said. More than 500 applications were reviewed, resulting in 153 grants totaling $63 million to test new and expanded community service projects in nearly every state.
"The commission is quite proud of Maryland," Mr. Camunez said. "We look forward to working with them."
The three programs for which Maryland will receive funding are called Serve-America, Conservation and Youth Service Corps and National and Community Service.
The Serve America program will receive $523,546. The money will be used to train 200 teachers in community service and to enable local schools to involve 30,000 students in community service. It also will support adult volunteer programs in 60 state schools.
The Conservation and Youth Service Corps will receive $1.15 million for youth service and conservation corps programs, in which students earn money and scholarships while learning job skills and community service. For example, the summer nature cleanup at Leakin Park, sponsored by the Maryland Conservation Corps, would become a year-round program.
National and Community Service will receive $1.2 million for a program to increase the number of people who volunteer in local non-profit and community agencies. The program will train 200 full- and part-time service leaders, develop up to 50 new volunteer programs and encourage the participation of 10,000 volunteers.
The National and Community Service Act of 1990, of which Senator Mikulski was an author, created the Commission on National and Community Service.
The law gives volunteers the opportunity to earn credits toward paying college loans or to buying a first home in return for making long-term commitments to volunteer within existing community organizations. Mr. Camunez said that places an emphasis on both service to the community and on the development of the participants.