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"Getting kids out in the community is a good thing, but there are some students that are really going to have challenges with that, unless it's very facilitated," said Brewer. "The kinds of experiences you want them to have is not sitting in an office licking envelopes all day." (AP Photo/File)

State considers mandatory community service to graduate high school

A lot of high school students use community service hours to build their resumes as they try and impress colleges and universities, but should community service be required for graduation?

A bill is working its way through the state legislature that would make community service mandatory.

Twenty school districts around the state currently require their kids to perform service hours to graduate, but it's not a statewide requirement. Seattle Schools, for example, require 60 hours for graduation. Bellevue requires 40 hours. Everett and Tacoma schools don't have the requirement.

State Rep. Steve Bergquist is a social studies teacher in Renton. He sees making community service mandatory as a great way for kids to improve their resumes and give something back. "I think getting kids involved with their community is a great step in the right direction," he said. "It builds social capital, for example. The community supports our schools, and the schools in turn are giving back to our communities."

Bergquist said the bill would leave it up to the individual school districts to decide how many hours would be required and what would qualify as community service. "I think every school district has the opportunity to make this as easy or as difficult as they want to," he said. "I don't think it would keep students from graduating."

State schools superintendent Randy Dorn thinks it's a great idea on paper, but he's concerned that adding another graduation requirement would prevent some kids from getting their diploma.

He's also concerned about how it would be implemented. "Who's going to oversee it?" Dorn asked. "Who's going to check it off? Then I have a liability issue. If a kid's out on a community service project because of his high school graduation, who's liable for that kid out on a community project?"

Dorn is also concerned about paying for this new requirement. "I have some real fear that adding any more mandates on a school district could cost them some money," he said. "My focus is to fund our public schools and our basic education before we add anything extra."

Representative Bergquist said it shouldn't cost much money to implement. He said students would be responsible for logging their hours, and they would be approved during their senior projects.

Lois Brewer has been overseeing service learning hours in the Seattle Schools for years. She's more interested in what kind of service will be approved than in requiring the hours in the first place.

"Getting kids out in the community is a good thing, but there are some students that are really going to have challenges with that, unless it's very facilitated," said Brewer. "The kinds of experiences you want them to have is not sitting in an office licking envelopes all day."

Bergquist's bill easily passed the House, and it will have a hearing in the Senate Monday.


Chris Sullivan, KIRO Radio Reporter
Chris loves the rush of covering breaking news and works hard to try to make sense of it all while telling stories about real people in extraordinary circumstances.
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