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My 7th graders are working on essays right now, and sometimes, as a way of becoming better at teaching, I’ll engage in practicing along with them. Following is an essay I’ve put together regarding mandatory community service:

Look at me, look at me! I’m the center of attention! For many teenagers, this idea is the beginning and ending of their world. If something does not help or affect them, it does not matter. This is why mandatory community service should be a requirement for high school graduation. Helping others is a good resume builder. Volunteering is a good way to broaden a social network. Plus, community service is needed and is the right thing to do. For these reasons, all students need to perform community service before being awarded a diploma.

If everybody has to help with community service, how can that possibly help a resume? Wouldn’t everybody have the same thing? This is only true if you do the bare minimum and do not put forth much effort in your search for community work. However, if you have an idea of what you want to do after your schooling, you can find many opportunities that would fit into your future area of expertise. Students going into a medical field can volunteer at hospitals or nursing homes. If you are interested in teaching, you can volunteer in a school or with a parent-teacher organization. Opportunities abound for motivated students to build their resumes through community work.

Look at a typical teenager’s Facebook page; they probably have hundreds of friends. Why would they need a bigger social network? The real question should be: how many of their “friends” will help them get a job someday? In a world where jobs are becoming scarcer and being outsourced to different countries, the idea of who you know becomes more important than what you know. President Obama said in Time back in 2009, in regards to community service, “You'll get work experience, you'll make contacts, you'll network, you'll expand your community in a way that ultimately will be good for you.” These contacts will be good references to have when in the hunt for a paying job someday. Who knows? Maybe they will help you get a job at the location you volunteered.

If all this community service is supposed to be for the good of others, why make it mandatory? Many people do not realize how good something can be for them until they try it. Think of some of the foods you did not want to try when you were young. Some of those are probably now foods you enjoy. According to Richard Stengel, also in Time, but in 2007, “It is the simple but compelling idea that…national service… should become a countrywide rite of passage.” For a generation of young people who have a reputation of being egocentric and focused only on themselves, this is a chance to show that they can rise above that and look out for the welfare of others as well.

As you can see, mandatory community service would be a good thing for all high school students to complete. The duration of that service could be debated, but the reasons to do it are clear. Helping others is a good resume builder.  Volunteering is a good way to broaden a social network. Plus, community service is needed and is the right thing to do. Thank you for your time and for considering the idea of community service for all students.

Okay, some of you are shuddering at memories of essay writing when you were in school (or currently, if you are right now!). Still, I’ve always thought that essays are the easiest pieces to write since they follow a basic pattern: introduce your topic, elaborate and prove, and wrap everything up. Creative writing is much more difficult since you have to start from scratch, but that’s a column for another time.

So should we have mandatory community service for our high school students? Clearly, by my essay, you can see that I think so. The question is: how do we make it happen?

Word of the Week: This week’s word is pregustator, which means a person who has the job of tasting food or drink before it’s served, as in, “The student needed to volunteer, so he became a pregustator at the nursing home, making sure the food wasn’t too spicy.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!

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