County high school grads give more than enough -- Gazette.Net


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Hanging from the caps of Montgomery County high school graduates each year are tassels of red and white, yellow and green, blue and black — a last show of school spirit.

Purple, though, is becoming more prevalent.

The percentage of Montgomery County Public School students who will graduate this year as Meritorious Service Contributors — allowing them to don the violet tassels — will be higher than in any other year, according to Pam Meador, the school system's student service learning coordinator.

In turn, more students have made a greater impact in the community; to become a meritorious contributor, students must donate more than 260 hours to approved nonprofit organizations.

More than 2,000 students, or about 19 percent of seniors, will graduate with the honor this year; usually, about 15 or 16 percent of graduates earn the honor, Meador said.

To graduate, seniors who have been in the school system since sixth grade must complete 75 volunteer hours. The requirement was established in 1993 by the Maryland State Department of Education.

Maryland is the only state that has a service requirement for graduation, Meador said, adding that its positive impact on the community and its nonprofits is tremendous.

This year's 10,469 seniors in the school system have volunteered for more than 1.65 million hours since sixth grade, or since they began attending county public schools.

Students can volunteer for about 500 preapproved organizations in the county or apply to get another activity approved.

The program is meant to encourage students to be lifelong stewards of the community — something that this graduating class seems to have grasped, Meador said.

Six students at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda will graduate with more than 1,000 volunteer hours, according to Gayle Evans, the school's college and career coordinator.

After far surpassing 260 hours, Maggy Kay, a senior, made it a point to hit the 1,000-hour mark, she said.

Maggy will graduate Thursday with 1,020 hours, and maybe more; she said some of her time spent volunteering with Congregation Beth El probably was not tracked. In three years and in accruing more than 150 volunteer hours, Maggy helped the Bethesda synagogue raise more than $3,700 as a volunteer member of its board.

She and Jessica Liu, another Walter Johnson senior who volunteered for more than 1,000 hours, say the key to giving is finding something that you enjoy.

“Find something that you might be interested in, and then bring a friend along with you,” Jessica said.

That is what Julie Moustafa, a junior at Sherwood High, did on her Memorial Day holiday, on Monday.

Julie and her friends, Rachel Baker, a Sherwood junior, and Yasmine Kamel, a junior at Clarksburg High, volunteered at Jeremy's Run, a 5K and 10K walk/run held in Olney to raise money for substance abuse awareness.

Julie, 16, already has about 200 service hours completed; Rachel, 16, has about 170.

Still, they both wanted to help out.

“I like helping good causes, and serving time for good things in the community,” Rachel said. “It makes you feel like a better person when you volunteer.”

Serving timeWithout students' help, the Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless could not afford to continue its meal program at the Home Builders Care Assessment Center men's emergency shelter, according to Diane Aten, director of development and communications for the coalition.

Through service hours, students provide about half of the 80,000 meals served to the approximately 800 men who visit the shelter in a year, Aten said.

Without students, the organization would have to spend more money to buy the food, which is donated and cooked by the volunteer students.

“ [The students have] a tremendous impact in that way,” Aten said.

About 2,500 of the 7,000 volunteer hours that the organization donates to the community each year are estimated to be from students, she said.

Although the majority of Maryland's school systems provide service opportunities for hours during the school day, Montgomery's also allows students to earn hours in school-sponsored clubs and the approved nonprofit organizations, Meador said.

Under the state mandate, counties can create their own program.

The principal at each middle and high school appoints a student service learning coordinator, who, along with their main position, assist students in finding opportunities in and out of school, and maintains students' records, which are updated twice per year, she said.

Dennis Reynolds, director of counseling at Walter Johnson, said the school uses many techniques, such as listserv messages, to ensure students complete their hours.

“At the end of the day, especially with the students that are lagging in getting their hours, and we know they need them, it comes down to face to face contact,” Reynolds said.

Despite the pushes, some students will wait until the last moment to volunteer, Meador said.

Reynolds said that his school works hard to avoid that, although it may be hard for students who have other activities, such as sports.

The 558 students graduating from Walter Johnson have completed 96,671 hours, Evans said; that is an average of about 173 hours, 16 hours more than the average county student.

For at least the past two years, no Walter Johnson senior has not graduated due to the requirement, Evans said.

But a small amount do not graduate because of the requirement, Meador said.

Those students will complete their hours over the summer or in an extra semester, she said.

To the students who find the requirement burdensome, Maggy said she would tell them to look outside of themselves.

“We spend our lives saying, 'I did this, I did that,'” Maggy said. “I got over 1,000 hours. Awesome. But it is the impact on other people that matters, not what you do for yourself.”

jbondeson@gazette.net