Senior Options and Practicum Experience » Community Service Program

Community Service Program

Description of the
Community Service Program

Alex, age 17, spent three days at “Ground Zero” in September of 2001 as a volunteer emergency response team member… Melissa, age 15, prepared and served meals for the FISH Interim Homeless Program… Shawn, age 16, played chess and chatted about current events with veterans at Lyons Hospital… Manuel, age 16, spent Tuesday afternoons reading to first graders as part of the PALS Reading Program… Kristanas, age 16, taught senior citizens how to use computers and access the Internet…Anna, age 15, tutored a seventh grader with severe learning problems… In 1999, Jamie, age 16, collected food, clothing, and cleaning supplies for victims of Hurricane Floyd.

The Dunellen High School Community Service Program, in keeping with the Mission Statement of the district, encourages students to “…share their talent with the wider community and recognize the need to pursue excellence in every area of their lives.” The Dunellen Board of Education formalized it in 1997 as a program in which students can earn five (5) credits for performing sixty (60) hours of community service. The only cost for the program is the $1,400 annual stipend for the program coordinator, a teacher at the high school. At the end of the 2005 school year, 80 students had participated in the program. The Board of Education recently passed a resolution mandating a minimum of twenty-five (25) hours of community service for all students, beginning with the class of 2007. This graduation requirement means that by 2006, 100% of the students in Dunellen High School will be participating in the program.

New Jersey Core Curriculum Standards are met in a variety of ways including “…structured out-of-school work experiences such as volunteer activities.” Students apply the information and skills from the seven academic and five workplace readiness areas. The program is innovative in that it is one of the first structured community service programs in the state. It goes beyond the projects and activities of organizations such as the National Honor Society or the Student Council because it is open to all high school students. It presents an opportunity for any student to contribute to the community outside the school while earning credit toward graduation.

Phyllis Piano, in her thirteenth year of teaching Choral Music at the high school, is the program coordinator and contact person for individuals or community groups who are seeking volunteers. She publicizes the service opportunities through daily video announcements, and she posts information on the community service bulletin board. Phyllis Piano matches interested students with appropriate activities. The suggested activity must be approved before the student begins the project. One exciting aspect of the program is that students and community individuals sign a contract, which Ms. Piano keeps on file. Accurate records are kept through log sheets which are verified by the community organizations before being submitted to the coordinator. Student service hours are then entered into a special Excel computer program. Students are notified once a year of their status. When a student has earned sixty hours, Ms. Piano submits the appropriate verification form to Mr. Paul Lynch, Dunellen High School Principal, as well as the Guidance Department. A recommendation for five credits is then issued. (See the forms).
The Dunellen High School Community Service Program deserves recognition because it works! The cost is minimal, the results are phenomenal, and other districts can easily replicate the program. The success and impact of the program can be measured by the fact that many students continue community service long after they have completed the sixty hours, even though they know that they cannot earn additional high school credits. Response from the community has been enthusiastic—Miss O’Donnell, former advisor, has received many letters of gratitude and praise for students. The New Jersey School Boards Association recognized the Dunellen Community Service Program with the coveted “School Leader Award” in May, 2003. That same month the CORE of the ARC presented “Distinguished Citizen Awards” to two Dunellen students for their efforts in tutoring students with learning disabilities.

The opportunities for service continue to increase in both number and type of activity. In April 1999, volunteers from AT&T joined students in their Earth Day beautification project. At least three students have been offered part-time employment by their community service supervisors. In addition, several graduates of DHS are now pursuing education and training for careers related to the community service projects they completed in high school. For example, a young woman who tutored middle school students is now working as a special education aide while studying to become a teacher. Also, a student who served as a volunteer fire fighter while in high school now intends to study Fire Science in college. Finally, the young man who served at “Ground Zero” is attending college and interested in becoming a doctor or nurse.

Program statistics and community response are evaluated each year by the coordinator, guidance counselors, and administrators. Students who have received awards or recognition for their volunteer activities are congratulated and presented with “certificates of recognition” at a school board meeting. The Dunellen Board of Education is constantly looking for ways to improve the program. Clearly, students feel a heightened sense of pride and satisfaction in their lives by volunteering their time and talent. The long-term goal of the program is for students to use the skills they have developed doing community service throughout their lives—as productive, caring, contributing members of society.