BUCKSPORT, Maine — RSU 25 officials are developing a community service requirement for high school graduation which, if approved by the school board, could be in place for the incoming freshman class at Bucksport High School this fall.
The program would require each high school student to perform 40 hours of community service in order to graduate, according to Dan Clifford, the principal at Bucksport High.
“Forty hours — that’s 10 hours a year; if they want to do more, and we think many of them will — that’s fine,” Clifford said Tuesday. “That’s not asking a lot. And it will give them a link to the community. I’m excited about it.”
The idea of service education is one that is becoming more and more prevalent in schools around the state.
“Some high schools already are doing it,” Clifford said. “And if they’re not doing it already, they’re looking into it.”
At this point, the Maine Department of Education does not collect data on the school districts that have community service requirements for graduation.
“There are a great many districts that have that requirement,” said Jaci Holmes, the federal-state legislative liaison at the department. “But it’s a local decision. It’s being done at the local level by the district boards.”
According to Clifford, Bucksport’s program may be different than most in that it will focus not only with nonprofit organizations, but also will allow students to work with area businesses to meet their community service requirement. If a student has an interest in being an accountant or an attorney, he said, the program will provide them with internships with those types of businesses in the community.
“We already have a good relationship with the community. And I think this will make it even better,” he said. “Our businesses will get to see the kind of students we have and they may get more excited about the education they receive here K-12. For the students, they might get a spark of something they may want to do [in the future]. I think it’s going to be a positive thing both ways.”
Students will not be allowed to earn money as part of the community service program, Clifford said. The program also will have restrictions on the types of organizations that will qualify. For example, fundraising for sports or other school booster organizations will not count toward community service hours.
Current sophomores, juniors and seniors will not have to meet the community service requirement. Incoming freshmen will be the first class to have community service as a requirement for graduation. The students will work with homeroom teachers during all four years of high school. Those teachers will handle the paperwork surrounding the student requirements. Teachers will work with the guidance department, which will keep a list of available options, to match students with organizations and businesses.
Whether it is with a business or a local nonprofit organization, Clifford said, developing a sense of community service in students will be a valuable educational experience that will benefit both the student and the wider community.
“I think this will help them to better understand the link to the greater community and the value of helping in that community,” Clifford said. “More and more in the future, we’re going to need the support of the community; and the community wants to know what’s going on in the schools.”
Once the RSU 25 school board adopts the requirement, Clifford said he will send letters to area organizations and businesses explaining the program and asking if they would be interested in participating. He said they were making final preparations to the program which he expected to go to the board at its next meeting in July.