School Requires Parents to Perform Community Service

Filed under: In The News

HandsOn Network: A parent and child involved in the 2008 Family Fun'raiser, an annual event that brings parents and kids together to volunteer.

The Academy of St. Joseph in New York City is a part of a growing trend of schools that encourage parents to volunteer. Opened in 2007, the Academy requires each family to provide 20 hours per year assisting in school-community projects or within the school.

The school, which allows grandparents and other family members to contribute volunteer hours, has a diverse slate of projects. Angela Coombs, head of the Academy of St. Joseph, says parents can get involved in many ways, from increasing students' green consciousness to organizing parenting seminars or assisting lower Manhattan's Bowery Mission Project.

"Some will do way more than they have to; some will just do the minimum. We're going to ... make it so much fun to do, they will want to do more," Coombs says.
Coombs expects the best from her students -- and their parents -- to make helping others a part of the school culture, where the motto is, "To foster character, competence, and compassion in every student."

"We are really here to take care of each other," Coombs says.

While there are no repercussions for not contributing, Academy parents probably won't be surprised to get a call from the principal if a family's service hours are not completed. Coombs checks the hours mid-term based on forms submitted by each family.

The Academy, which currently runs pre-kindergarten through second grade, will add a new grade each year through eighth grade.

Typically, community service was reserved for middle and high school, but educators say there benefits to starting young. When parents and children begin volunteering in grade school, it becomes an automatic gesture that can be "reinforced and repeated at home," which helps to foster a partnership between the school and the home, Coombs says.

Since 1989, the number of Americans who volunteer has increased by 23 million, and schools --and parents -- have seen the benefits to volunteering. According to Maggie Jones, executive director of Youth HandsOn Network, a student who volunteers one hour per week is 50 percent less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol.

"Much research has proven the power of service as a preventative, reducing drop-out rates," says Jones, whose organization works with schools across the country, including 600 New York City public schools.

"Increasingly people want to give back and parents are being called to action on the part of their child's education," says Jones. "It's not a cherry on top of the cake, but the baking soda," an intrinsic element in creating the cake itself, she says metaphorically.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.