Principal Interest

Cultivating a culture of service in schools


A sign some student volunteers placed on the lilikoi (yellow passionfruit) vine in the middle school garden. I think that this sums it up.

Is mandating volunteer work in the spirit of service?

This is an excellent question that I have been asked by my students. As an IB school, service is a key component in all of our curriculum programs – just like in many school systems. We ask our students to do a minimum of twenty hours of service per year. Actually, that’s not completely correct. We don’t ask, we make them do it, hence the question from students. I would love to find a better way.

The program itself attempts to promote a spirit of service, a sense of selflessness and joy at helping others in the community. Wouldn’t it be something if we could actually do this. One outcome of this ‘mandatory-volunteer’ service is that students do get an opportunity to experience different activities and it is surprising how often they stumble across an experience that makes a big impact on them, learning something about themselves.

We can’t change what people believe, however in schools, we have the responsibility of exposing students to an array of learning opportunities. In this sense, service is as much about the student learning, as it is about helping the community. If is wasn’t for the program, would the seeds of the spirit of service be planted? (Couldn’t help throwing in a gardening metaphor.) For this reason, we will ignore the mandatory-volunteer conundrum and continue to plant these seeds.