By Jason Menard
Does anyone else find it somewhat curious that the very institutions that have been charged with educating our youth are the same ones that seem to need a refresher course on what the term volunteer actually means?
Forcing our high school students to perform a requisite number of volunteer hours as a compulsory component of graduation is just wrong and sends a terrible message to our society’s youth.
By very nature, compelling students to partake of this program in order to graduate goes against the very concept of volunteerism, and it stands as an insult to the intellect of our society’s youth to use euphemisms like volunteer, when compulsory societal assistance is the true name of the game.
And, in the long run, what we’re going to do is drive many of these students away from ever volunteering again.
The things I have become passionate about in my adult life are things that I drifted into on my own volition. In large part, the things I was forced to do were the things towards which I developed the most resistance – and I don’t think I was an atypical teenager.
Admittedly, when I was in high school, I was not the most socially conscious member of my graduating class. However, as the years go by and I learn more about the world around me, I’ve come to include volunteering in my life. I consider myself and enthusiastic and hard-working volunteer when I choose to commit my time to a cause.
But it’s always my choice – no adult would expect any less, but then we don’t extend the same courtesy to our children.
My participation has brought me in contact with our conscripted volunteer staff of high school students. Needless to say, my experiences have been mixed. I’ve run into kids who are more interested in socializing with each other and show no desire in actually being where they are. For them it’s a matter of doing their time – much like a prison sentence – until they’re allowed to go.
Then there’s the other group who actually takes an interest in what they’re doing and display a passion and work ethic, which shows that they are participating for the right reason. The kicker is that these are the kids who would be volunteering anyway. I’m not so naïve to think that volunteers aren’t needed in our society, but what we need are more of the latter and less of the former.
The school board desperately needs to get more creative in their attempts to encourage volunteerism. Let’s encourage behaviours and work ethics that will actually serve them later in life. Instead of making volunteer participation compulsory, let’s investigate ways to offer it as an extra-credit opportunity. Working with teachers, allow kids time away from class on occasion to help worthy causes and learn more about the world around them.
For the people who will complain that offering extra credit is unfair, look at the work force. If you want to impress your boss, you go above and beyond the call of duty. You put in the extra time – so why not promote and reward this work ethic at a young age?
Kids are under a tremendous amount of pressure. Between the demands of school, social pressures, and – for many – part-time jobs, we need to be understanding of their needs as well and not paint them all with the same brush.
There are a number of kids out there who would love to donate their time and energy to volunteer programs. But there are ways to channel their energies to these worthwhile cause other than through administrative force.
Think back to the things you remember from your own youth. Chances are your best memories are of your friends, sporting accomplishments, or experiences gained through participation in clubs. But the key in all of this is that these are all activities you chose to do.
Our high school-aged children are on the cusp of being adults. Part of their development during this time is to learn how to make their own choices and to do the right thing. So let’s trust our children and treat them as the adults we want them to be.
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