President Bush’s recent call for Americans to devote 4,000 lifetime hours to volunteer work could inspire a stream of people to offer their services at schools across the country. But some service-learning advocates say the plan falls short on enlisting a large population of potential volunteers: K-12 students.
The USA Freedom Corps—for which the president is seeking funding of $560 million in fiscal 2003—was established by executive order in January. The president envisions the new program as having four parts.
A new group called the Citizen Corps would provide opportunities for Americans to help ensure homeland security. Such efforts, according to the White House, would include taking part in neighborhood watches, a volunteer police-service program, and a medical reserve corps made up of retired health-care professionals. Mr. Bush has also proposed doubling the number of volunteers participating in the Peace Corps, which now has about 7,000 workers in 70 countries.
Senior Corps, a program for volunteers over the age of 55, would receive $50 million under Mr. Bush’s plan to provide for an additional 100,000 volunteers. The program currently has about 500,000 participants.
And AmeriCorps, the national- service program that was one of President Clinton’s signature initiatives, would receive more than $230 million to enroll 25,000 more participants, a 50 percent increase.
According to the White House, the Web sites for all of the branches of the USA Freedom Corps have seen drastic increases in the numbers of visitors since the president’s State of the Union Address. In that Jan. 29 speech, Mr. Bush announced the creation of the volunteer organization and urged people to participate in service activities.
Plan Before Congress
President Bush has not been the only one suggesting an expansion of AmeriCorps. Last November, Sens. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., and John McCain, R-Ariz., introduced legislation—dubbed the Call to Service Act—to increase AmeriCorps by 200,000 members, half of them dedicated to homeland security.
Both Mr. Bayh and Mr. McCain have said that they would work with the president on creating additional service opportunities.
Like the president’s initiative, the Bayh-McCain plan does not contain provisions that apply to K-12 students who volunteer. But Mark Kornblau, a spokesman for Sen. Bayh, said it would affect schools because AmeriCorps volunteers work in schools. If someone were to craft a proposal to recruit more student volunteers, Mr. Kornblau said, “I’m sure it would be something that Senators Bayh and McCain would get behind.”
Last week, when the president decided to stress the importance of volunteerism, he chose to make his remarks to an audience of students at Eden Prairie High School in Eden Prairie, Minn.
With him was Will Gove, an 83-year old veteran who builds soccer fields and reads newspaper stories to people with visual impairments. The president said students should follow Mr. Gove’s example and considering volunteering.
Terry Pickeral, the director of the National Center for Learning and Citizenship at the Education Commission of the States, based in Denver, voiced concern that Mr. Bush’s USA Freedom Corps does not include opportunities for students to participate in service activities.
Mr. Pickeral added that schools have become popular places for adults to volunteer. While he applauds efforts to help students, he said, “It sets up young people as being recipients instead of participants.” There is a meaningful, long-term difference between tutoring services in schools by senior citizens and AmeriCorps volunteers, on one hand, and service by students themselves in their communities, on the other, he said.
Service learning is important, Mr. Pickeral said, because it creates “smart kids and good citizens,” while bringing the curriculum into the real world. For example, he said, service “teaches them why geometry is important, because they are creating things like doghouses and gardens.”
He added that he wished the president had taken his plan one step further and proposed increased funding for school-based programs for students, as well as those for adults. “That would have made me feel much better,” he said.
The USA Freedom Corps is about more than just opening up new opportunities and strengthening existing programs, said Lindsey Kozberg, a spokeswoman for the USA Freedom Corps. President Bush has issued a larger call to action “for all Americans to dedicate two years of their lives to service,” she said, adding that the administration hopes his call “will lead to a lifetime of service, no matter when you start.”
She said that Learn and Serve America, for instance, provides many opportunities for students to volunteer. That program, which is run by the Washington-based Corporation for National and Community Service, the same group that administers AmeriCorps, gives grants to schools for service- learning programs.
Since 1996, Learn and Serve America has received $43 million each year from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Of that money, 75 percent is used in K-12 projects, and 25 percent goes to higher education service-learning opportunities.
A study released last week indicated that America’s youths perhaps could use a presidential nudge to go out and volunteer.
The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement, based at the University of Maryland College Park, the Minneapolis- based Center for Democracy and Citizenship, and the Washington-based Council for Excellence in Government polled 1,500 young adults. More than half of them, the poll showed, “would be at least somewhat likely to consider working for a community-service program.”
But the rate of episodic volunteering—a measure of those who sometimes volunteer, but participate in such activities less than once a year—has decreased by 7 percentage points from the last survey in 2000. The share of the participants, ranging from ages 15 to 25, who reported that they “never” volunteer is up 10 percentage points, to 37 percent, from the previous survey.
A version of this article appeared in the March 13, 2002 edition of Education Week as Volunteer Plan Should Tap K-12 Students, Advocates Say