97% of high school seniors finish service requirement New state report reveals striking reversal in a year

THE BALTIMORE SUN

With only a precious few days until graduation, at least 97 percent of the state's 43,135 high school seniors have completed the mandatory 75 hours of community service they need to get their diplomas, state education officials reported yesterday.

The report shows a dramatic turnaround from the situation 10 months ago, when 40 percent of seniors had yet to complete the controversial new graduation requirement, to the alarm of many local school officials.

But as of May 15, when the latest statistics were compiled, only 25 students statewide were "not making progress" -- 10 of them in Baltimore County.

Another 908 students were less than 75 percent finished in mid-May, according to the report given to the State Board of Education. Baltimore had the most students in that category -- 429 -- though city officials said 89 percent of the 3,733 seniors had completed the requirement by this week.

Such down-to-the-wire progress pleased state officials and state board members dismayed last summer about the large number of students who had not completed or even started the requirement, effective with this year's graduating class.

"We are not only looking at numbers, we are looking at quality issues," said state Schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. "The quality of the experiences is what it should be."

Of more than 5,600 seniors in Baltimore County, "we know of only one or two who will not graduate solely due to the student service learning requirement," said Elaine Gorman, director of secondary education there.

"There will be some students who did not do the service because they are not going to graduate for other reasons," Gorman said.

That pattern holds throughout the state. Of the 933 students who were still completing the service requirement May 15, 558 have not met at least one other graduation requirement, according to the state report.

The report presented a picture far different from the gloomy situation last summer and fall, when school systems hustled to ++ create courses and greater opportunities for the students to complete community service during class time. Some districts even offered evening and weekend courses in "student service learning."

"I want to commend each one of the jurisdictions. Less than one-half of 1 percent [of students] are in jeopardy," said board member Morris C. Jones of Stevensville.

"They may not get their diplomas in June, but they will still have the summer," he added.

Students will be able to earn service hours in summer schools and receive their diplomas in August. In Baltimore County, for instance, students will be able to take the regular service learning course or a Summer of Service program.

In other action this week, the board agreed to make an addition to its education goals -- a parent involvement goal, requested by the Maryland Congress of PTAs.

Similar to the national standard, the Maryland goal calls for "partnerships that will increase parental involvement and participation in promoting the social, emotional and academic growth of children."

Though board members heartily agreed that parental involvement is integral to successful education, they have debated adding the goal for some time.

Pub Date: 5/29/97

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