Time Well Spent? A Closer Look at the 80-Hour Graduation Requirement

Clare Struzziery, Staff Writer

November 13, 2023

Every Upper Schooler is united by the task of completing 80 community service hours before graduation day. This is a breeze for some students, while others scramble to pick up hours cleaning the Spay Waggin’ at the Animal Rescue League or volunteering at events like the James Joyce Ramble. Ask any student, and they will instantly be able to tell you how many hours they have, whether it be 300 or 0. However, not every student is able to communicate exactly why we have this requirement, and not everyone believes all they should be required to tick this box. 

Many students turn to the Community Service Afternoon Program to earn 60 hours of service credit. The program sends students out in small groups to a rotating selection of local sites. This year, under the leadership of new Director of Experiential and Community Engaged Learning (EXCEL) Laura Neubauer, the Community Service program is placing a definite focus on the Dedham community, specifically the Dedham Public School system. Volunteers are sent daily to the Early Childhood Education Center and the Learning Enrichment And Play (LEAP) after-school enrichment programs at the Avery and Greenlodge schools. Newbauer explained that this shift was primarily driven by logistical concerns, as Dedham sites have short commute times from Nobles. “We have more time to do service,” she said. 

Additionally, these Dedham schools have familiar education and safety infrastructure already in place. “It’s important for sustainability purposes that we support programs that already exist and that have the infrastructure to serve their populations,” Neubauer said. The Community Service program seeks to partner with after-school organizations that already have planned programming for their students. Neubauer said, “I understand that there is a community need for after-schooling…but we can’t build that for them.” 

How can one quantify the impact of Nobles volunteers at these different sites? According to students and faculty involved with the program, it varies by site. At Community Servings in Jamaica Plain, where Nobles students pack meals for families with specific dietary needs due to chronic illness, Fall Community Service Faculty Sara Toga says that volunteers’ impact can be quantified by the number of meals they package. However, at places like Hebrew SeniorLife, the impact of volunteers is not tangible but is meaningful nonetheless. When describing Trivia Days at the center, Toga said, “Those residents of that place, they light up when they’re spending time with students.” 

Neubauer said that she is still learning about the Community Service program, and her goals for the program will partially depend on the strategic plan now being developed to direct Nobles’ future. At the moment, she has no specific agenda. “We are evaluating our programs…and if that requires us to revamp the approach to community service, then we’ll do that, but right now, we’re in the middle of the learning phase,” she said. Of the program’s objective, Neubauer said that the priority is helping others: “If at the end of all these community service hours, [they’re] only benefiting Nobles students then we failed.” The aim of Community Service at Nobles is to serve partner organizations in the most effective and meaningful way, and that is Neubauer’s first priority. 

“If at the end of all these community service hours, [they’re] only benefiting Nobles students then we failed.”

Regarding the 80-hour requirement, Neubauer said, “There are some people who just want to get it done.” Recognizing this, however, she said, “You get what you give.” A student’s commitment to the service they are performing directly correlates to the impact it will have, and also the personal benefit they may glean from it. Although the primary goal of Community Service is not to enrich the student experience, Neubauer says that service can help students “increase empathy and build up resilience,” but ultimately, service should “put partners first.”

Some students take on the requirement wholeheartedly and with an understanding of what their service means. Ben Myers (Class II) says, “I think we have some sort of obligation for community service because we’ve been given so much.” The idea of service as a responsibility for students, who have had access to a myriad of opportunities and resources, is one potential justification for the requirement. Ethan Train (Class II) said, “I think [community service] needs to be rerouted from the requirement to actually explaining why it’s important.” The community service requirement may only be useful to certain students if they understand why the school is asking it of them. The requirement itself may also degrade the value of service for some. “I think it’s important to do community service, but I think requiring a certain amount of hours just makes it a thing to check off on a to-do list to graduate, and less of a thing that you actually are interested in and want to do,” said Sasha Stern (Class II). As the Community Service program evolves over the next year under new leadership from Neubauer, students will await changes and answers. In the meantime, they will all be completing their 80 hours.

(Photo Credit: Ben Heider)

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