Sour Service Hours


Photo by Dylan Brehm

Dylan Brehm, Op-Ed

Mountainside should reconsider the Community service policy because requiring a minimum number of service hours is both discouraging and counter-productive.

I was only 30 minutes into my two-hour long shift at the preschool when I started to countdown to my moment of freedom afterward. There was a mob of waist-height kids locking my knees together and making my job of maintaining order difficult. 

I had already reached my year requirement of 10 hours, but I knew this service time was an investment in my future. My yawns became more frequent and drawn out. Soon I worried I would be sleeping along with some of the other toddlers. I sat there trying to read through my foggy eyes as the children continued to test my patience by throwing foam blocks and plastic balls at me. The outside shell of my body endured the minor inconvenience instead of doing my community service and correcting the bad behavior. I felt like I was burning out of joy in my service even after just a year.

To reach my minimum yearly requirement I sung in a church choir, served numerous days in a preschool, attended a Monte’s Monthly Maintenance, helped with a Portland free medical and dental care outreach day, as well as donating a toy to a family in need through the school. I was rewarded with a generous 23 hours my first year of community service, but with 17 hours left to complete, I realized that I could not drift through my next three years. 

However, most of my friends were not as fortunate as they either barely reached the minimum or fell short in their busy schedules. Now that I am settled into high school I have taken on more responsibilities and my service has already started to be crowded out. Even more so, I look forward to the day I reach my 40 and no longer have to stretch myself thin. I worry that once I reach the 40 hours I will have already abandoned my desire to really serve the community not idly acquire service hours.

Many students already struggle with balancing school and extracurriculars, such as sports and clubs, and adding onto that stress is the requirement for service. Instead of making it about the desire to serve it has made it into yet another assignment that slowly wears down on your motivation to serve.

The main support for minimum service hours comes from arguments that claim that service hours are beneficial for college admissions and also that these requirements spark the inspiration for students who, otherwise, would not volunteer. These two points are true, but also deceptively inaccurate.

As is wisely said in The Incredibles, “If everyone is special, no one is.” This nugget of wisdom can easily be applied to the service hour requirement and college admissions. These requirements punish students who already had the drive to serve without the requirement by making their achievement seem ordinary. Also, it complicates the process of distinguishing the achievements of particular students from others. If everyone contributes the same amount of service hours, will Colleges be given an accurate measure of someone’s willingness to serve?

Additionally, the claim about students needing inspiration is also deceptive. Although some research by the New York Times suggests that a minimum requirement for service does cause more people to serve earlier in high school, there has also been significant research and revelation that community service drops significantly for upper-classmen. According to a study by Education Week, Sarah Sparks says that the initial boost in 8th-grade volunteerism leads to a “potential loss in long-term volunteering.”

In conclusion, I believe that Mountainside should reconsider our Community Service Policy so that both Lower and Upper Classmen are motivated and rewarded for their service. I believe that Community Service is vital to any city or organization, but it is more important that our school does more to foster a healthy balance. I would propose a first-year service requirement that involves advisory class time for finding exciting service opportunities.