Learning about democracy and government is about more than just
taking notes. It’s about being a part of the democratic process and
Learning about democracy and government is about more than just taking notes. It’s about being a part of the democratic process and the community.
And to further the process, San Benito High School requires its students to take part in community service as part of their U.S. government classes.
Social Science Division Chair Louise Ledesma set the requisite at 12 hours of volunteering, attending three community meetings and interviewing a government employee.
“(Students) feel more of a part of our community. It increases their self-esteem,” Ledesma said. “The purpose of the government class is to get involved in our community.”
Most students go beyond their required 12 hours of volunteering, she said. Volunteer hours are kept track of by a supervising adult who signs paperwork turned in by the student. Of their three required meetings, one must be of the San Benito High School District Board of Trustees and one of the Hollister City Council, Ledesma said.
At SBHS, U.S. government is a semester-long class; Advanced Placement U.S. government is year long. Students in this class complete their community service the first semester and concentrate on the AP exam the second.
Along with being a requirement of the class, the community service counts as 10 percent of a student’s grade.
AP government teacher Tom Whitwam said the requirement is a good idea for students.
“Students getting involved in the community is the first step in getting them involved with democracy,” Whitwam said. “The whole point of the class is to get them participating in democracy – get them voting and writing their legislators.”
Although the volunteering is not voluntary, government teacher Charles Schallhorn said the requirement gives students a chance to do something new.
“Sometimes, our eyes are not opened up to something unless we’re required to do it,” he said.
Schallhorn has worked at a number of schools with the same type of requirement. He said it has been required for psychology classes, or just merely high school graduation. And sometimes, the volunteering portion can reach upwards of 100 hours, he said.
Popular choices for students to fulfill their 12 hours of volunteering include Community Pantry, the Red Cross, San Benito County YMCA, Hollister Recreation Division, Pet Friends and the Salvation Army, Ledesma said.
Whitwam said where a student volunteers depends on their interests. He has had students clean trails at Hollister Hills, visit seniors at Northside Convalescent Home and tutor elementary school kids.
SBHS senior Michelle Stevens volunteered at Lord’s Table in Gilroy and the Hollister Rotary Club. She said she put in more than 12 hours. She also attended a water district meeting.
“I think (the requirement’s) good. It adds to the government class. You see it taking place,” she said.
Not many students complain about having to do community service, but it’s difficult for them to find the time and a place to go, Stevens said.
Senior Mohammad Huweih completed about 80 hours of community service, but said he doesn’t think it helps students learn about government. He said everyone should participate in the activities, but that they shouldn’t be graded.
YMCA office manager Merri Vieira said many students volunteer at the YMCA. Most high school students work with children through the agency.
“A lot of high school students want to work with kids. A lot are here to eat up their hours. They’re all good with kids,” Vieira said.
Many students help out at YMCA’s after-school programs at school’s like Ladd Lane, Sunnyslope and Spring Grove, she said.
When students do complain about having to do the outside work, Schallhorn suggests students look at what their interests are.
“I tell them to find something they’re interested in and find a way to turn it into community service,” he said. “Many students are already involved in things that are considered community service.”
Although there are many places for students to fulfill their volunteering demands, Ledesma would like to compile a Web site of organizations that need volunteers for students and the community to use.
“There is a need for volunteers. I know there’s a greater need out there,” she said. “… New people (to the community) may not know where to go.”
Any agencies interested can call Ledesma and she will have a government student interview them to find out their needs. That will fulfill the student’s interview requirement. Once the information is compiled, Ledesma will post it on a Web site for everyone to access. She can be reached at 637-5831, ext. 365 after 2:35 p.m.
Whether students want to do the community service, they might feel differently after they give their time and help others.
“It’s something that’s enjoyable. Sometimes, you get more out of it than the people you’re helping,” Whitwam said.