Junior Reilly Lerner has spent countless Saturdays giving back to her community: re-roofing homes for the impoverished elderly, helping feed the hungry with the Atlanta Community Food Bank, packaging medical supplies to developing countries through MedShare and helping women seeking refuge at the Atlanta Women’s Day Shelter. Though she expects nothing in return, she does receive community-service hours for her work. These hours, she believes, are a reflection of true dedication and hard work. Lerner feels that not all students put this much effort into earning their community-service hours.
In recent years, Grady teachers have offered increased opportunities to earn community-service hours, leaving some questioning the validity of the community-service policy. The current APS policy requires all students to perform 75 hours of community service in order to graduate. Both teachers and students, however, believe the broad definition of community service allows too much leeway.
Grady communications teacher Mario Herrera believes this policy is flawed, describing it as a “free-for-all.”
“I don’t know if it has any teeth,” Herrera said. “Everyone knows that if they talk to the right people they can get their forms filled out.”
Lerner shared a similar sentiment.
“I find it unfair that students get far more community-service hours than people who truly try simply because their teacher gave them more hours than they actually worked,” Lerner said.
She criticized signs around Grady that say, “Get ‘X’ amount of community service hours for signing up,” because that is not the actual amount of time spent.
Herrera distributed 20 community-service hours to senior Quameeha Grandoit for stacking books in his classroom, although she only spent 15 hours of her time. He said he is guilty for giving double hours to students in the past.
“Not anymore,” Herrera said. “I don’t think it’s right because it demeans the purpose of community service. Helping out others shouldn’t be opportunistic.”
Literature teacher Susan Mercer called the situation a “conundrum.”
“If kids need 75 hours to graduate, but the nature of community service is selfless, how does that work?” Mercer said.
Mercer has granted community-service hours to students on her ultimate Frisbee team for raking and plowing Grady’s practice field after they use it for a parking lot fundraiser. She debates whether or not this service deserved community-service hours because people paid to park their cars on the field, damaging it in the process. She concludes: probably not.
Senior Monica Prioleau said she received 75 hours of community service from former math teacher Alvie Thompkins for attending Georgia High School Graduation Test tutorials. Prioleau attended these tutorials for five weeks and earned two and a half times the number of hours she spent.
“It doesn’t fulfill the purpose of community service because you’re not doing anything for the community. It’s more for yourself,” Prioleau said.
She explained that opportunities such as this one are advantageous for people who do not have the time to perform community service.
Spanish teacher Liliana Ortegón is among several faculty members who offer community-service hours to students who help her organize. Despite this, Ortegón believes that students would benefit more from working outside of school so that they acquire a better sense of the needs of the community.
Communications and Journalism Academy leader Carrie MacBrien believes volunteering for teachers can be valuable to students by building sensitivity to what teachers have to endure. She pointed out that by assisting the teachers, students are allowing them to spend more time on grading and planning.
Lerner, however, remains apprehensive as to whether these hours are fairly earned. She is also concerned because community service gives students an edge when applying to college.
“I honestly have worked every hour that I have recorded, and I am proud of that, not only because I’m being truthful, but because I have given that much time back to my community,” Lerner said.