Milwaukee Public School students graduating in 2015 and beyond must participate in community service or take a service learning class, a requirement that school officials and local leaders hope will foster a new generation of engaged community members.
District officials believe the requirement will also build skills, increase self-confidence and spur career exploration on the part of the student.
“Our main is goal is to get kids college and career ready, to get them new experience and to have them contribute to society, with guidance, structure and support,” said Kathleen End, the district’s community service coordinator.
Officials from Milwaukee Public Schools and the Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee met with representatives from about two dozen nonprofit organizations recently to discuss how the initiative will affect their efforts and how they could engage students.
Youth volunteers “bring a lot of energy,” said Pamela Behling, the volunteer director at Milwaukee Public Television. “I have some [volunteers who] have gone on to college and have said they are coming home because they want to volunteer.”
To meet the requirement, students can either take a service learning course in high school or complete 20 hours of community service independently. They can also take a required or elective course online to fulfill the requirement.
Students who elect to complete 20 hours of community service will need to submit a proposal form that names the nonprofit where they want to volunteer and describes their community service plan, their current skills and interests, and what they hope to gain from the project. After completing the project, they will be asked to assess themselves and write a brief summary about their experience.
Students cannot be compensated for their service. Additionally, the service cannot be done as part of a court-ordered judgment or to benefit a member of the student’s immediate family.
Students will be matched with a school advisor, who will approve the proposal and guide them through the process.
Those who opt for service learning will investigate community needs and then undertake a project that meets one of those needs. Service learning projects will be carried out with the help of community partners such as nonprofit organizations.
Service learning can be incorporated into almost any high school course, with schools determining which classes will be available to meet the requirement. Some schools may have additional requirements depending on their curriculum and at some community service is already part of their requirements, according to district officials.
The skills that students are “going to acquire in that class are … relevant and useful to solve real problems that they care about that make a real difference in the world that they live in,” said Sarah Kubetz, the district’s service learning coordinator.