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Most Md. 11th Graders Have Not Met Service Mandate, Report Says

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Two-thirds of Maryland's 11th graders have not completed the state's requirement that they perform 75 hours of community service before they graduate next year, a state report shows.

The Class of 1997 is the first to have to satisfy the service-learning mandate, which legislators approved in 1993. Maryland is the only state to require community service of its students before they can graduate from high school. (See Education Week, Nov. 23, 1994.)

The state school board's report shows that so far more than 30,000 of the state's 46,000 juniors have not finished the hours of community service they will need to earn their diplomas next year. More than 20,000 of those students were making progress, the report says, and the remaining 10,000--nearly a quarter of the class--have made no headway toward fulfilling the requirement.

Students' progress varies widely across the state, the report shows. Some districts have reported significant strides in meeting the mandate, while other school systems' efforts have languished.

At least two school systems, Frederick and Harford counties, reported that all students were making progress toward accumulating service hours. And in Anne Arundel County, 93 percent of students already have fulfilled the requirement.

But nearly the opposite is true in the Baltimore city schools, where only 4 percent of students have completed the hours needed, and 87 percent have made no progress toward completing the requirement, the survey found.

"We are experiencing the growing pains of getting it implemented," Beverly A. Thompson, the service-learning coordinator for the city's schools, said last week. "The main problem is it isn't cut and dried. You can't just hand them a package and say it's supposed to be a learning experience. It has to be institutionalized."

The 113,000-student district is planning to aggressively market the program to next year's graduating seniors, Ms. Thompson said, and has sent letters to parents explaining the requirement. The district also plans to offer a service-learning class for students this summer.

Organization a Problem

Student leaders across the state say the findings in the board's report reflect the difficulty in implementing an effective service-learning program.

Tracy Tucker, the student representative on the state school board, polled 17 of her student counterparts on local school boards and asked them about the obstacles the program faced in their school systems.

"Where the organization of the program was lacking, students felt there was a burden on them and the outlook was more negative," said Ms. Tucker, a senior at Westlake High School in Charles County, Md.

"If they organized the program better, many more students would become involved and meet the hours," she said.

She added that many students across the state are not sure what types of activities count toward the service requirement.

"Students see it as unfair when in some places you can go to a school dance to get your hours and in other areas you have to go into the community and do things," she said.

Another reason for the low participation rates in some areas is simple procrastination, another student leader said.

"The service requirement is one of those things you put on the side, and you'll get around to it when it comes up," said Raven Hall, a senior at Northern High School in Calvert County, Md., and the student representative on the local school board. Ms. Hall, who is exempt from the program because she is a senior, said many 11th graders at her school said they plan to make up their hours in their senior year.

Margaret O'Neill, the executive director of the Maryland Student Service Alliance, which runs the program for the state education department, said the survey will help officials identify places that might need additional help.

"We have a year and a semester to keep moving forward," she said.

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