Program encourages students to volunteer

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06/23/2013 11:00 AM |

CLAIRE LEADEN PHOTO | A community service designation on a Mattituck High School diploma.

Mattituck High School has listed community service designations on its diplomas for about five years and now plans to make it easier for students to take advantage of the offer next school year.

The school’s Community Service Club will be in full swing following this year’s pilot program. The recognition listed on diplomas shows how many community service hours a student has completed in high school.

Mattituck High School principal Shawn Petretti said the school created the club in order to help students become more aware of local community service opportunities. He described the initial response as “tremendous” and said between 30 and 40 students got involved with the club this year.

“It’s about getting the kids to participate and acknowledging their efforts in a formal manner,” Mr. Petretti said. “There’s only so much they’ll learn inside school. We want them getting real world experiences.”

AP biology teacher Janine Ruland said she created the club mid-school-year because she believes community service experience is important to a student’s development. Ms. Ruland, the club’s adviser, said although she ran the meetings this year, student officers will be appointed going forward.

She proposed the pilot program in order to find out if there was a student interest and said she was pleasantly surprised by the increased community service involvement. Some volunteer projects the club got involved with this year include winter coat and clothing drives, bake sales and creating Easter baskets for children at a local day care.

Students also worked with Cutchogue New Suffolk Library’s “doggy biscuit” program, in which students were given biscuit batter, baked the treats at home and brought them to the local animal shelter. The student volunteers also worked with Group for the East End and did some weeding, mulching and cleaning at local beaches, Ms. Ruland said.

“My goal is to showcase how wonderful these young people are,” she said. “As they’re reaching out to their community, hopefully it will strike a nerve and they’ll find how meaningful it is.”

In addition to the minimum requirement of 65 hours over a four-year time frame, students are only allowed to bank 15 hours toward their total hours for certain community service projects, such as volunteering at a hospital. The requirement encourages students to diversify their experiences, Mr. Petretti said.

As the school continues to look at ways to provide students with community service opportunities, the high school principal said he’s considering increasing the overall minimum requirement in order to make the designation more significant.

“This makes them stand out a little bit more,” Mr. Petretti said of Mattituck’s students using the designation during the college admission application process.

Ms. Ruland said she hopes community experience will foster students’ future interest in helping others.

One project scheduled for next year includes taking some of the money students raised through bake sales to support Project Linus, which provides kits to make blankets for hospital patients.

Ms. Ruland said the students will be dropping off the blankets because another piece to the community service experience is its intangible rewards — seeing how their efforts have changed other people’s lives.

“When you see the effect you have on others, it’s very rewarding,” she said.

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