Community service

Baltimore-area high school students continue community service amid pandemic

Students from Gilman School and other schools volunteer through the BRIDGES program to provide education, guidance, and fun activities to underprivileged students in the Baltimore City Public Schools. Photo courtesy of Gilman School.

After suspending community service earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic, Maryland high school students are back to volunteering in their communities.

In 1992, Maryland became the first state to introduce a community service requirement in high schools, requiring all students to commit to at least 75 hours of service before graduation.

In response to the pandemic, the Maryland State Board of Education waived service requirements for the graduating classes of 2020 and 2021. For those school years, volunteer hours were not required, but the state worked with individual school districts to identify virtual opportunities for students.

Since then, the Governor’s Office of Service and Volunteerism has coined the slogan “Hide, Serve,” encouraging students to re-immerse themselves in volunteerism.

Towson High School student Hans Van Lierop, a member of the Class of 2023, began finishing his hours doing various environmental awareness projects and helping coach a recreational football team throughout middle school.

However, the lack of opportunity due to the pandemic has forced him to refrain from meaningful community service until recently. This summer, Van Lierop volunteered at a swim clinic at Loyola University and helped coach some swim practices for his local swim team, the Stoneleigh Sharks.

A competitive swimmer himself, Van Lierop said he enjoys volunteering his time to support the next generation of swimmers.

“My most meaningful community service was helping with swimming lessons because I gave back to the team I started swimming with in hopes of encouraging young swimmers to keep working hard. “, did he declare.

Looking to the future, Van Lierop plans to join his school’s environmental club, which will earn him more hours while supporting a cleaner Chesapeake Bay.

During the 2018-2019 school year — the most recent year of data from the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) — students in Maryland public schools participated in 34,652 service-learning projects and gained 7,475,671 hours in total.

Lora Rakowski, MSDE’s Senior Executive Director of Communications and Community Engagement, described volunteer hours as “an instructional strategy used to teach existing course content experientially, which helps students better understand what ‘they learn “.

Although private high schools in Maryland are not subject to any state regulations on community service, many have created their own mandates. Gilman School student Noah Johnson, also a member of the Class of 2023, more than doubled his school’s 50-hour service requirement, earning 110 hours in total.

At the height of the pandemic, Johnson found himself with few volunteer hours and little chance to expand his service resume.

“I had to delay when I planned to complete my community service hours,” he said.

Eventually, Johnson found an opportunity during the summer of 2021, tutoring struggling students who were heavily impacted by the shift to remote learning. During these hour-long sessions twice a week, he helped students hone their testing skills and overall understanding of academic material.

Johnson said service work was a rewarding experience, but also one that required patience and dedication.

“The pandemic has had an effect on my community service as it has required me to help serve my community in a very different way than I ever imagined… [Tutoring] was a lot harder to do than I expected,” he said.

In July, Johnson volunteered for the BRIDGES program at Gilman, helping provide education and counseling to underprivileged students in Baltimore City Public Schools. The days consisted of helping children learn in the classroom, participating in physical activities on the sports field, and participating in weekly field trips.

Over the course of two weeks, Johnson racked up 75 hours of service in addition to gaining a better understanding of his community.

“My most meaningful community service experience has been BRIDGES because of the deep connections I’ve made with so many different students who come from very different circumstances than mine,” Johnson said. “BRIDGES put into perspective the true privilege I have and introduced me to the other side of my privilege.”

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