Community Service: A program in flux

In the Nov. 5 Daily Bulletin, a short notice tucked in just below the summer service announcement, and just above the holiday service announcement called “Reduced CS Office Operation” reads: “This year, students can access the CS Office Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays ONLY. Your patience is appreciated in scheduling meetings, and receiving responses to e-mails during this transitional, and final, year of operation.”

The same notice appeared the day before, and the day before that; the careful observer will even notice it plastered among walk-a-thon flyers and say-cheese outreach pictures on the darkened window of the Community Service office.

The cryptic notice is the first sign of major change occurring on campus. Beginning this year the outreach program will be overhauled, placing leadership in the hands of students. Jan Stewart, the head of the Community Service Program since 2000, has been working only part-time this year and will not be returning next year.

Stewart said that Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts had told her the program would be changing.
“It wasn’t my decision,” Stewart said, “I was informed that I would no longer be part of the program.”
There are several proposed plans for the structure of outreach next year, said Huybrechts, all of them including provisions that give the Prefect Council either direct or indirect authority.

“I truly believe we should be giving kids as many opportunities as possible to initiate, to lead, to facilitate, and to see a program through,” she said. “It’s hugely rewarding for students and it’s definitely something that they can do.”

One proposal allows for the Prefect Council to take over community service in an “ad hoc” model much like the one already in place. Another would require chartered clubs, which are currently organized by a Prefect Council subcommittee, to organize a community outreach event for students.
“Because clubs have a certain focus, a certain interest, it seems like sort of a natural thing for them to do community outreach in the area of their interest,” Huybrechts said.

Huybrechts also discussed the possibility that a separate entity, such as a student senate or a community council, would be founded to monitor community service. She made it clear, however, that the school does not wish to return to a separation of Student Council and Honor Board, and that any new bodies would be overseen by the Prefect Council.

Head Prefect Tasia Smith ’08 said that Huybrechts has charged the Prefect Council with working out next year’s system, and her co-head Wesley Yip ’08 said that the council has been briefed on the general ideas behind the changes.

“We want to encourage more projects that involve more students,” said Yip.

Already project based community service is in the process of being integrated into prefect council responsibilities. Students who wish to use school resources for fundraisers or other such events collaborate with an assigned Prefect to present a proposal to the planning committee, which will decide whether to approve the use of the requested resources and put the event on the calendar.

“This is the year where we are trying things out and seeing if they work,” said Huybrechts.

The Prefect Council ran a Community Service fair on Monday as an opportunity for students to increase awareness about their organizations and fundraisers.

Yip said that the struc Already project based community service is in the process of being integrated into prefect council responsibilities.

Students who wish to use school resources for fundraisers or other such events collaborate with an assigned Prefect Council member to present a proposal to the planning committee, which will decide whether to approve the use of the requested resources and put the event on the calendar.

“This is the year where we are trying things out and seeing if they work,” said Huybrechts.

The Prefect Council ran a Community Service fair on Monday as an opportunity for students to increase awareness about their organizations and fundraisers.

Yip said that the structure of project based community service would be complete by February, but that Prefect Council has not discussed other aspects of the program and whether students will be allowed to continue individual, hour based community service.

“Now that Fanatic Fest is over we will have time to start working on this,” said Smith.

The current program, which was instated by Stewart in 2004, is based on collaborative outreach without an hour requirement.

Stewart started the system so students could exercise cooperative and leadership skills, but noted that collaborative outreach helped to curb cheating in the program since students would monitor one another.

In 2006 students were also given the option to complete outreach through a 12 hour individual requirement.

The merits of hour requirements – whether they strip sentiment from the service or empower students to work individually – have been debated by administrators, faculty, students, and parents in previous years.

“I never particularly liked the idea of collecting hours and checking off boxes,” said Huybrechts.
“I like the direction that community service is going,” said Jim Patterson, dean representative on FAC, “I would like to see more development of the group projects I think some students have gotten away with minimal service under the current group-project system.”

Huybrechts planned to announce the changes to FAC at yesterday’s meeting. The program has been involved in community service in the past, but as of yet it has not been directly involved in the current process of change.

Stewart criticized the administration for giving her “responsibility” over the community service program without the “authority” to enforce its rules, saying that with regards to community service the school had a lack of “willingness to hold students accountable, especially those that cheat.”
Another hotly contested issue in the past has been community service awards.

In forming the collaborative program the school scrapped the Humanitas society in favor of the Benefacta Award.

Before it was eliminated, the Humanitas society endured several years of controversy and debate due to the fact that the Humanitas Board, which accepted or rejected members of the society and chose award winners, was run by students.

It also suffered criticism for what was seen as undue importance or the lack thereof given to hour achievements.

“I had difficulty with that concept because I think everybody, but particularly students, oftentimes vote for friends, for the familiar,” said Stewart. “I think adults that have more life experience are, not always but frequently, able to put aside those kinds of judgments [based on social standing].”

The Benefacta Award is given only to seniors and at the moment is chosen almost solely by Stewart, which calls in to question who will choose the recipients when she has left. It has not yet been decided whether the Benefacta Award will be continued under student sovereignty.

“I know that the students here are some of the most generous, the most creative, the most wonderful students I’ve ever worked with, and I can only assume they will continue to do what they have done in the past,” said Stewart.

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