Do students find value in SSL Hours?

Walker Prince

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Photo by Andrew Plotnick

The Walter Johnson football team donates and volunteers at the K-9 Lifesavers dog shelter.

SSL hours have played an essential role in Montgomery County high school graduation, but how do students really feel about them?

Since 1992, the state of Maryland has required students to complete 75 hours of community service in order to graduate. The goal of completing SSL hours is to allow students the opportunity to have an impact on their community outside of school and to understand the connection between their academics and community service.

According to a recent survey of WJ students, the vast majority believe their student service learning hours (SSL hours) have been meaningful; 62% of respondents said that SSL hours had a positive impact on them and the community.

“I knew that I was helping others by packaging meals for families who aren’t as fortunate as others. I feel like it´s good because it allows you to help your community or people,” junior Marco Albertini said.

Senior Alexis Rubin enjoys helping younger students.

“I really like participating in SSL opportunities that allow me to interact with other people like helping elementary school aged kids,” Rubin said.

SSL coordinator Jamie Reed believes students do a great job of finding interesting and worthwhile opportunities to help the community.

“They [outside agencies and organizations] are always incredibly grateful to what our students provide and they feel our students go above and beyond the needs they are looking to service,” Reed said.

However, not all students report having great SSL experiences, and in fact, just more than half of the students surveyed (53%) said that they only volunteered their time because it is a mandatory requirement.

“I worked at a summer camp for really long hours. Something that sucks is camps in the area know that you need SSL hours and they will give you SSL hours instead of paying you. I worked 10 hours a day for six weeks and all I saw from it was an increase in SSL hours, not any money,” senior Rowan Wright said.

Although freshman John Taylor found his volunteer work meaningful, he only did it because it was a requirement to graduate.

“Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it was useless, but I just think it shouldn’t be a requirement. I found it meaningful, but also just did it for the graduation requirements,” Taylor said.

According to the American Association of School Superintendents, Maryland is the only state in which volunteer work is a graduation requirement. In the survey, 47% of students believe that the SSL requirement should be removed.

“I feel that making volunteering a requirement makes the action of volunteering not mean that you want to help your community but it means that you are just doing it to graduate high school and not out of the kindness of your heart,” senior Jael Smith said.

In fact, according to research published in Education Week in 2013, requiring students to perform volunteer work in high school can actually have a negative effect on the amount they volunteer as an adult.

On the other hand, Reed feels that beginning volunteer work during teen years can lead to a lifelong commitment to service.

“Students who feel connected to the service work often find it much more rewarding and will, in turn, develop even greater ways of helping. It’s not just about doing the actual service,” Reed said.