High school students often are busy with homework, part-time jobs and extracurricular activities. All of these activities add something to their lives, but local educators noted another option – community service – exists.
Daniel Mesh, science teacher and director of community engagement at Hawken School in Chester Township, and Tony Srithai, principal of Beachwood High School in Beachwood, said students also can find meaning in community-service projects.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, teenagers tend to have a high volunteer rate, which was 26.4 percent in 2016.
“(Volunteerism) is such a different place than being in the classroom,” Mesh said. “The classroom is a great place for intellectual growth, but not necessarily personal growth. When students volunteer and are engaged in their community, they encounter the messy world. Though filled with inefficiencies and inconsistencies, it’s one where they can drive their own growth.”
Srithai said, “Community service programs allow students to engage local communities to establish partnerships that are reciprocal, positive and lasting. Volunteerism encourages students to establish relationships with community partners while offering their time and talents. In doing so, they explore real-world applications of the content they engage within the typical school setting.”
Srithai said volunteering allows students to explore potential professional relationships as well.
“These partnerships allow students to, at an early age, foster professional relationships within their community,” he said. “They gain practical experience while learning more about the rich diversity that exists within charitable institutions, the health care field and special interest agencies.”
Mesh noted volunteering can set students apart.
“As a professional, it is rare that anybody knows or cares where I went to school or the grades I got,” he said. “The things that determine my success, both short and long-term are my ability to lead, listen, read a room, problem-solve and persevere. Students can develop these and other interpersonal skills in ways that they simply can’t in the classroom.”
Srithai noted volunteering can help a student realize their potential.
“It is our hope that, through volunteering, students learn more about their real-world potential to give to others and their community,” Srithai said. “Within a more exploratory setting, students are able to envision their future selves in different roles. They gain practical knowledge that will benefit them in their future educational pursuits, careers and professional relationships.”
Mesh said students also learn that making a positive difference in the world is possible, and volunteering can give them hope for the future.
“Working with people in need can humanize them and their struggles,” he said. “When people are dehumanized, they can act in ways that are desperate and destructive. When problems are dehumanized, they become somebody else’s and we are disinclined to care.
“When students volunteer, they can see that the hungry person is somebody’s brother or that the lonely person in a nursing home is somebody’s grandmother. Developing empathy is one of the most powerful benefits for a volunteer, as it will help them with all of their relationships.