Clarifying community service

Alden Detmer

With the administration reinstating the hands-on component of the school’s 12-hour community service requirement, volunteering in the community is as important as ever. Community service hours can provide students with the opportunity to give back to the broader LA community they’ve always known.

As a child, I vividly remember going every winter to a local church and packing supplies for the homeless — even Former Mayor Eric Garcetti ’88 was there once. That experience helped to instill a sense of empathy, responsibility and teamwork at a time when my young brain was still figuring out the world. Volunteering has immense value and is a win-win situation for both the recipient and the participant.

Schools, especially elite independent institutions like ours, play a vital role in shaping the future leaders of society. While the school’s mission of “joyful pursuit of educational excellence” is commonly cited and of critical importance, “purpose beyond ourselves” is often forgotten. Equipping students with the experience and skills necessary to be selfless citizens and leaders is just as important.

One might argue that the school’s requirement of 12 hours of hands-on community service is sufficient. The problem is solved, right? Not necessarily. Roughly 11% of students openly admitted to submitting community service hours they did not actually complete, according to a Chronicle poll of 108 studentsSubmitting fabricated hours is just too easy for the average student with a packed schedule.

While verifying all 1,600 students’ community service hours would be impossible, the real solution lies in plain sight. In addition to the required parental signature, students should be required to receive a signature from someone at the organization verifying the work they have done. Forging a non-profit employee’s signature would be on a whole different level of misrepresentation than simply fabricating volunteer hours.

The school also needs to alter its definition of hands-on community service. Helping plant trees or pack lunches for the homeless is not considered submittable community service because students aren’t directly interacting with an underserved population. A narrow definition of community service is only going to discourage students from doing meaningful work that they are passionate about. While playing with your dog should not be considered, volunteering as an election poll worker and supporting a civic process that is vital to your local and national community should receive credit.

An alternate solution could be organizing one or two school-wide events every year. With hundreds of staff, 1,600 students and thousands of parents, the school has the ability to host a meaningful, team-building community service event. If it becomes easier to genuinely volunteer than navigate lying about hours, the school can easily enable students to fulfill the original purpose of the community service requirement.