Some Seniors Short on Service Hours Following Pandemic Constraints

A Zoom phone-banking session run by the Student Action Committee to mobilize voters in Virginia, for which GDS students received service hours. Screenshot courtesy of Maddie Feldman.

GDS requires every student to complete at least 60 hours of community service to graduate from the high school. But with less than seven months left until graduation, some seniors, hampered by the pandemic, have made little progress.

The community engagement office, which oversees students’ hours, expanded its definition of service during the pandemic. While some students fulfilled their requirement with virtual opportunities, others chose not to partake, including seniors who now plan to finish their hours in the coming months.

Senior Ben Freedman told the Bit he currently has zero service hours. He volunteered as a climbing coach when he was a freshman but did not record the work, expecting he would log many more hours later. Instead, he procrastinated. “I’ll do some later in the year,” he said in a recent interview.

Senior Sofia Greenfield, who has three hours, said her busy schedule, including year-round basketball, has prevented her from taking advantage of the variety of opportunities GDS offers to earn service hours.

Three seniors also cited the pandemic as an impediment to gaining hours. Greenfield said a volunteering project she had planned to do at Howard University, preparing bags of equipment for dental students, was shut down due to the pandemic.

During virtual learning, GDS continued to offer some in-house service opportunities, including the new Buddy Program, the summertime Policy Institute and Tuesday Night Tutoring. “The pandemic made traditional volunteering more complicated,” Leigh Tait, the interim director of community engagement and experiential learning, said. “The best we could do is to then respond by opening the doors to all these other areas of action.

“There were plenty of ways to get involved,” Tait said, “even in the height of the pandemic.” Tait and Monique Leyden, the program associate for community engagement and experiential learning, both said they do not have statistics about students’ service hours during the pandemic and the Class of 2022’s progress.

However, some students chose not to participate in the GDS-run service programs during the pandemic, either due to an absence of enthusiasm or because virtual volunteering lacked face-to-face connection.

Senior Ben Joseph said he did not participate in the virtual service programs “because that didn’t sound very fun.” Joseph told the Bit during his first shift at the Hop Shop, in mid-November, that he had not previously earned any service hours but was planning to fulfill the requirement by working at the store “every week for roughly 16 weeks.”

Tait also noted that students can receive hours for work at over 100 pre-approved organizations listed in a spreadsheet accessible on MyGDS. “The requirement has been in place for a long time so students should be aware,” she added.

Each student’s recorded service hours were included in November progress reports and seniors were reminded of the requirement at a recent class meeting. According to Tait, students who have yet to meet the minimum will each receive an official notification before winter break.

“If a student has not met the graduation requirement by the time the graduation ceremony takes place, they will not receive their diploma,” Tait said. “They will receive it afterward if they complete their work over the summer.”

The four seniors interviewed by the Bit who have earned few or no service hours said they were not worried about meeting the 60-hour requirement by graduation. 

“I think I can get it done over the breaks and long weekends,” said senior Kendall Bullock. 

Freedman, for his part, plans to volunteer at a local soup kitchen. He also suggested that the community engagement office should “probably help people stay on track by requiring a certain amount of [hours] per year instead of having people like me, where we procrastinate it to the last year.” 

Leyden said she doesn’t favor instituting a strict requirement at the end of each year because underclassmen may still be adjusting to high school. 

(The GDS high school’s 2021-2022 Course of Study says that students are required to log at least 20 hours by the start of their junior year, but the deadline is not enforced. Tait explained in an email to the Bit that it is a suggestion meant to dissuade students from leaving all their service work to their often-busy junior and seniors years.)

Tait said that in her time at GDS, no student has ever failed to meet the service hours requirement. “We remind them many times. Parents are brought into the conversation. The grade dean is brought into the conversation,” she explained. “And ultimately, students do get their hours in.” 

Some students have already completed their 60 service hours, despite the burdens of the pandemic.  

Senior Lauren Lemer has finished her service hours, mostly through GDS activities such as Tuesday Night Tutoring, Tuesday Night Art, Math Mentoring and Social Coach, an organization devoted to teaching senior citizens how to use technology, which she leads. When the pandemic hit, she was no longer able to run Social Coach sessions. So, instead, she joined the virtual Buddy Program.

Junior Sofia Sevak said she was initially concerned about reaching 60 hours amid the pandemic but completed the volunteering requirement by participating in the in-person 2021 Policy Institute.

“It was a little bit harder for everyone to engage in community service,” Sevak said. She had enjoyed forming connections with younger students in pre-pandemic Tuesday Night Tutoring, but “the things that were online didn’t interest me as much as in-person activities.”