Anne Arundel County students may find themselves doing community service as part of their schoolwork, even if the General Assembly decides such good deeds shouldn't be a requirement for graduation after all.
Yesterday, the county Board of Education voted 5-1, with one member abstaining and another absent, to adopt a proposal to teach the concept of community service, starting in the fourth grade, and require service work outside the classroom.
Community service was instituted statewide last year as a condition for graduation, but the General Assembly has a bill before it to do away with the requirement.
The plan the Arundel board passed yesterday is the county's proposal to fulfill the current community service requirement, and as such would need approval by the state superintendent to take effect. Board members said they liked the plan enough, however, to keep it as part of the curriculum even if the General Assembly decides to drop the requirement.
"I have some very serious objections to this as a graduation requirement for every single student in our system, but if service learning is to be a graduation requirement, this model is certainly the best compromise," Arundel Superintendent C. Berry Carter told the board. "This also can be used on a voluntary basis even if service learning isn't a graduation requirement," he said.
"I support the idea of community service, but I'm not sure it should be a mandate for graduation, and I'm not sure this is the right place for emphasis when we have other needs," board member Joseph H. Foster said. "We should be devoting our time and energy to writing skills."
But he was reassured when Dennis Younger, director of curriculum, said students would have an opportunity to write and speak to their classmates about what they had learned in a service activity.
For instance, students who choose to plant trees would plan the activity, do the planting, then write and speak about the experience.
Students, individually or as a class, could choose their service activity. Some of the work could take place during school hours, but students would be required to perform some service outside school hours.
Board member Tom Twombly, who voted against the service curriculum, said he was concerned about how volunteer hours outside the classroom would be recorded.
"It sounds like we have an honor system. This lack of documentation troubles me," he said.
Mr. Younger defended the decision not to have teachers keep track of students' volunteer hours. "That was seen as one of the outstanding facets of the program," he said. "Besides, you'll be able to tell whether the student has done the activity by what he or she has written on an assignment."
Under the program, students in grades four and five would be introduced to the values of citizenship and community membership during their social studies units. During the three years of middle school, students would receive 10 hours annually of instruction, building on the elementary school material.
High school students would receive 20 hours of credit through one semester of "American Government" and one semester of "Law and the Individual." Tenth-graders would pick up an extra 20 hours of credit in their first-semester English and language arts classes and their second-semester science classes.
The school board also voted 5-3 yesterday to give students more academic credit for taking harder classes, such as honors or Advanced Placement courses, thus boosting grade-point averages. The idea is to encourage students to sign up for the more challenging courses.