By Sarah Swenson, Assistant News Editor
As the school shuts down once again due to the coronavirus pandemic, administrators have opted to maintain the traditional graduation requirement of 20 hours of community service, even though opportunities are severely limited. The school argues that the requirement is too meaningful, and that fulfilling it should still not present a challenge. However, regulations around community service have been loosened.
Community service looks different this year, with covid restrictions limiting the number of organizations asking for students’ help, but volunteering is still important. Reaching out to help the community is even more meaningful now than most years, according to Seanda Bartlett, chief adviser for students when it comes to community service.
To graduate from the Nantucket High School, you must meet a minimum requirement of 20 hours of your time spent in community service, fulfilled at an organization of your choice, although some students log many more hours in their four years at the school. The class of 2019’s total was 4,515 hours, far surpassing an average of 20 hours per student even with the tally cut off due to covid. Since 2005, classes have brought in about 3,500 hours each, with variation, showing each group of students willing to put in the effort to help their community.
This year, however, volunteering has been met with an unusual challenge. Each worker a business takes in from outside their core staff brings with them an added risk for infection. Programs from organizations usually happy to accept student volunteers, like the Harvey Foundation, the Nantucket Community School, and the Nantucket Boys and Girls Club, some of the most popular supervisors for students in past years, are limited, leaving many students struggling to find somewhere to fulfill their requirements. “Not many organizations are doing events, and those who are, don’t want to be letting outsiders into their events because of increased exposure, so I’ve had to be creative with creating opportunities for students,” Bartlett explained.
Seniors who have not yet accumulated 20 hours are in particular struggling. In the past, challenges to the requirement have largely centred around low-income students who work outside of school and might struggle more to find the time. Now, however, they have refocused to the pandemic.
Bartlett added that she has been approached by several seniors looking for a place to help out, and in light of the current crisis, she has loosened the rules concerning community service. Customarily, students must work directly with an organization, receiving a signature from a superior. This year, Bartlett has created several events, like trash cleanups. The Nantucket Clean Team organizes the cleanups, which are primarily participated in by seniors, although anyone is welcome to join them. These hours are not correlated to any individual business, but they allow students to still give back in a meaningful way.
There are also opportunities inside the school community, participated in by mostly juniors and seniors. Some upperclassmen participate in a mentoring program at the elementary school, where they work with individual students there. Others volunteer as tutors for freshmen and sophomores at the high school in the science department. These volunteers, whose names are posted on the boards of science classrooms for students interested in a tutor to contact, are usually students who took biology or chemistry in the honors and AP level courses and excelled.
The choice to volunteer in tutoring positions at the school allows students to contribute to the school community in a way they enjoy or are skilled at. They also gain the chance to help a student through a lesson or subject they might have struggled with. According to Seanda Bartlett, this is the spirit that community service should be done in: “Everyone has a story. We don’t know what their story is, but sometimes their story is that they need help… and everyone, including myself, have been in positions where we need help, and sometimes asking for help is difficult.” The junior confidently describing the functions of the parts of a cell could be the same one who struggled with it in freshman year. Bartlett suggested that we should volunteer to help others for the time that we couldn’t ask for help but were given it anyway.
Some argue that community service requirements take meaning away from the acts. They claim that forcing someone to do a morally good thing takes away some of the goodness of the action because the volunteer may have had no intention of giving back if they were not compelled to. However, Bartlett countered this critique, saying, “Sometimes the person doing the volunteering benefits from the act of giving back more than the person receiving. I feel like it impacts both of their lives…. If it’s not required, the individuals that don’t participate miss out on opportunities for growing as a person.” She believes that the goodness of volunteering is not curbed by it being required, and every student who participates benefits from the experience, orchestrated or not.
Covid-19 restrictions, while making volunteering more difficult, also don’t lessen the impact of the work or get rid of the school’s requirements. As the woman who oversees students’ community service progress, Bartlett’s final and most important piece of advice is that students don’t put off their service until the last minute. Freshman, sophomores, and juniors have until June 1st to complete their hours, and seniors have until May 1st. For help getting started or meeting requirements, or for any other information about community service at the high school, you should contact your guidance counselor or Ms. Bartlett.