By John Castelluccio
---- — PEABODY — Before seniors at Peabody High can graduate next year, they’ll likely have one more requirement to fulfill: community service.
Mayor Ted Bettencourt announced in his 2012 inaugural speech that he wanted to introduce some kind of community service requirement, and the proposal has slowly been taking shape as school board members and administrators discuss the best way to implement such a policy.
Local officials have only positive things to say about it and note that several other local high schools already have community service requirements.
“It’s something I strongly believe in for our students ... helping those in a less-fortunate position,” Bettencourt said. “I don’t want to put onerous conditions on anyone. ... Lots of students have to work or have extracurricular activities. I just want our students to understand a little better what’s going on in the world.”
It’s not that Peabody students aren’t volunteering now. Honors programs, athletics and other extracurricular activities either require or strongly encourage students to give back. Bettencourt just wants to make it an official part of the school program.
“We’ve been doing a lot of this for a number of years,” said Peabody High Principal Eric Buckley, adding that better communication of what students are already doing is probably needed.
“The kids are usually very willing to give up time,” he said, whether that’s with the city’s annual International Festival, business club or charitable fundraising walks. “Most of the kids through their four years are involved in some kind of community service or cleanup.”
Buckley said there may be some logistical issues to work out, but he doesn’t anticipate any large hurdles.
“Most kids will benefit from the experience,” said School Committee member David McGeney. “... I think community service is something that all kids should be doing.”
He didn’t recall “community service” being a term when he was a student 40 years ago at Bishop Fenwick; it was just understood.
“It was as much a part of student activities as going to class and doing homework,” he said.
“It’s not a chore. It’s an obligation as a good citizen ... but you get as much back from it as you put into it,” McGeney said.
The School Committee will discuss the matter tonight, and Bettencourt hopes to have a policy in place for the fall. He envisions requiring juniors and seniors to volunteer for a local cause or charity, or even with the city, for 8 to 12 hours per school year.
When he was a student at Peabody High, Bettencourt said, he volunteered through his church and as a member of the National Honor Society. He put in many of those hours at the George Peabody House Museum.
On the North Shore, Danvers, Masconomet and Manchester Essex high schools all require students to do community service, as do the two Catholic high schools: St. John’s Prep and Bishop Fenwick. So do nearby Lynnfield and Saugus high schools. Generally, the policy is 10 hours per year, 40 hours total.
Schools Superintendent Joe Mastrocola said not only does such service provide an immediate community connection, but once students enter college or the workforce, service will be a big part of their education and/or vocation.
“It will be expected of them in the future,” he said.
Students will have flexibility in choosing service projects, he added, which may even spark interest in unexpected areas or give them an opportunity to develop new talents.
In addition to the actual service hours, many districts also ask students to write an essay reflecting on their service, which is often just as valuable as the physical service, Mastrocola said.
You can reach John Castelluccio at 978-338-2527, email@example.com or via Twitter at @SNjcastelluccio.