Isolated Service Experiences


The final form of service concerns students making short term commitments to helping in the community that, while often credit bearing, are not directly linked to any particular curriculum or to an on-going discussion or analysis.


All high school students in New York State are required to volunteer nine hours of service before graduating. At Ithaca High, this is done through the Government class students take as seniors. As the students and staff will readily admit, nine hours in one’s senior year is not always a meaningful endeavor. My work with the Government classes was aimed at making that experience more meaningful. I presented two times to each government class, in both first and second semester. The first presentation consisted of


A) Why one should do service in the first place, besides the requirement? We did this via a “Where Do You Stand?” activity and open discussion.


B)  The elements for meaningful service – long term commitment, links to students’ academic and personal interests, and reflection.


C) How to find a suitable placement and how to make the first contact. I included a list of placements and also offered opportunities had just come up that month. 


A Handful of Community Service Opportunities and Getting Started on Service (See Resources).


The second presentation, usually done nine or so weeks into each semester, concerned the following:


A) How to deepen the service experience by reflecting and linking the work to one's core beliefs; toward this end, they watched a video of Sam Frumkin, a former ICSD student now attending SUNY Albany, discuss how service in high school changed his whole perspective on school and social justice, and how that change came through serious reflection on each experience  – See Service Projects from Scratch  to view Sam's video. Ithaca High students then reflected on their experiences so far, discussing what was meaningful and pointless about their time in the community.


B) We then turned to possible spots in the community for those students who had not found a placement or whose placement felt less than meaningful. I met with these students and helped them find suitable matches; some followed up with emails and phone calls, especially those students who had jobs on top of their studies or similar restrictions on their schedules. (See the discussion of equity on the Challenges page for more on service by students who need to work or who do not have easy access to placements.)


C) Finally, I asked the students, as seniors, to offer feedback on what a service program should look like at Ithaca High.  This generated lively discussions in most classes and many students suggested creative notions for integrating service into the fabric of life at Ithaca High School.  See Directions for Service at Ithaca High for details on their ideas and feelings about service. 


The hope was that my time in the Government classes provided a larger context for volunteer work. I tried to push them to find and reflect on placements that linked to their personal and political interests, whether that meant helping at the Cancer Resource Center because of a relative battling an illness or tutoring at Enfield or BJM because they had an interest in education and social justice. Here are comments about this work from Sara Shank, one of the Government teachers:


This year government teachers at Ithaca High School collaborated with Jon Raimon to make the community service requirement portion of Participation in Government more meaningful for students. Jon came to our classes to facilitate discussions designed to help students think about how they viewed community service. This gave students a forum to discuss the value of community service, whether they supported the requirement or thought it was a bad idea. Through his extensive community connections, Jon offered students many possible placements for community service. He also offered extra assistance to students who were having a hard time finding service assignments. I know that a number of students contacted him directly to get help finalizing their placements. Jon also gave teachers many more resources that we can tap into to help students find good volunteer placements in the future. Jon offered us ideas on how to improve community service experience for our students. We are incorporating his suggestions into the development of our community service program. Our program has improved based on Jon’s input and will continue to get better because of it.


Below is a photograph of an Ithaca High School Government student helping out the day of the Family Reading Partnership's Annual Book Fest, which is wonderful community event (  Some students found one time service events like this meaningful, while others did not.  Generally, duration -- volunteering over time for one cause -- makes for a richer, more thoughtful experience.




DeWitt: Service By All


Another opportunity for this kind of volunteerism arose at Dewitt Middle School early in my sabbatical. The Dewitt Social Studies staff, under Andrea Volckmar’s leadership, wished to have the students make a commitment to service. She had already had her students volunteering four to six hours a semester. She wished to have this commitment more permanently embedded in the Social Studies classes. Hence, I met with the Social Studies staff and we discussed ways to facilitate this shift. I discussed how the LACS model operated and how the DeWitt might differ from that approach. We covered key points with the staff, such as finding the right match / placement, questions of equity (how do students find and get to a placement if they have limited resources and support), and, of course, reflection. Later we had LACS students spend two days at DeWitt to lead discussions about service with 7th & 8thgraders; they did this through testimonials regarding their service experiences and “Where Do You Stand?”  They also handed out and discussed a sheet with possible placements for middle schoolers, similar to the one the Boynton students received – Middle School Service Placements  and Getting Started on Service. This included a script about how to talk to a potential mentor or volunteer supervisor. Overall, the presentation seemed to be helpful in giving students a context for the meaning of service, though no doubt Ms. Volckmar and others were already providing much of that context. Still, it is always good to have peers present and inspire. Once we did the presentation, the DeWitt folks took off on their own, adding to the array of service opportunities at that school, such as Penny Boynton's longstanding service group in Brooktondale.  It is my understanding that now all 7th and 8thgraders need to complete a certain number of hours of service each year. Ms. Volckmar noted, "My students were happy to meet your students, and they did good projects this year for their spring and fall service. Your students helped them to appreciate that ongoing service is part of a satisfying life, and that many interesting young people choose to get involved in a wide variety of ways."  Surely these experiences in the community will bolster their sense of themselves as engaged citizens and provide that first step toward self-awareness and awareness of the wider community.