DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) — Throughout his time in Holy Family Catholic Schools, volunteer service has become a fact of life for Matt Bandy.
The Wahlert Catholic High School senior often hears teachers emphasize that helping others is part of his faith, which encourages him to seek ways to serve.
He also has a service requirement to meet each semester, and his sports teams often volunteer together in the community.
“It’s just a feel-good thing that I think became a habit,” he told the Telegraph Herald .
Wahlert is one of many schools around the tri-state area that encourage volunteering among students. Through approaches such as service requirements, recognition systems, clubs and other means, staff seeks to instill in students the value of serving their schools and communities.
“We’re saying that it matters,” said Sandra Beisker, assistant principal at Hempstead High School in Dubuque. “It matters if you give back, if you serve, so we help create that environment by showing the way and going that way ourselves.”
At Dubuque Senior High School, employees kicked off a new program this school year aimed at encouraging volunteer service.
The Silver Cord Program requires this year’s freshmen to earn 100 service hours during high school at a recommended rate of 25 hours per year. Older students’ requirements are prorated based on their grade as the program is phased in.
Students who complete the program will receive a cord to wear at graduation and will be recognized in the program for the graduation ceremony, said Kelly Pfohl, a Senior science teacher and instructional coach.
“It’s a tangible way for them to prove that they’ve served their community,” she said.
Cecilia Oberdoerster, a freshman at Senior, joined the Silver Cord Program because she thought it would be nice to receive credit for the volunteer work she was doing anyway.
Still, the program has encouraged her to look for more volunteer opportunities, she said. She also is more likely to take those opportunities when they arise.
“People are already doing it anyway,” she said. “This just gives them recognition and the ability to do more.”
Hempstead High School also has a volunteer recognition system, Beisker said. The school offers clubs and classes that focus on service, and individual teachers and members of student government also provide service opportunities.
School officials also make students aware of local volunteer opportunities.
“When they’re given suggestions, they recognize something they might connect to,” Beisker said. “If you just say, ‘Oh, it’s really important to volunteer,’ and you don’t guide them toward those opportunities, then it’s really difficult for a young person to find that kind of focus.”
At Platteville (Wis.) High School, students can receive graduation cords for doing 50 hours of volunteer service each year, Principal Timothy Engh said.
That system helps students keep service at the front of their minds, Engh said.
“We want to teach kids the value of community,” he said. “That’s very important.”
Local Catholic schools also use service requirements as a way to keep students active in their schools and communities.
At Wahlert, students are required to do 10 hours of service each semester. Students who don’t complete their hours lose five percent of their grade in their religion class, said Jim Kuhl, a Wahlert religion teacher.
Students who complete 50 service hours each year have the chance to receive graduation cords. The school also offers an annual service trip and a service day.
Kuhl said performing service is in line with Wahlert’s mission as a Catholic school.
“Yes, they do have to do them, so to speak, but it just lets us encourage them to do it by giving it a systematic approach, that we follow our God who has told us to do this.”
Nick Bandy, a freshman at Wahlert, said he has had opportunities to do service through his schools, such as a daylong middle school service trip and cleaning up homes after storms with members of the football team. He said the chance to volunteer deepens his faith life.
“School definitely makes it easier to do service,” he said.
At Beckman Catholic School in Dyersville, Iowa, high school students have to complete 12 hours of volunteer service each year — four hours each in the school, parish and community. Junior high students have to earn six hours each year.
Jerry McGrane, campus minister and high school theology teacher at Beckman, said the service requirement helps students acknowledge the contributions parishes have made to the school.
It also helps students get outside of themselves and live out their faith, he said.
“We’re not fully human unless we’re giving of ourselves to others,” McGrane said.
The school also offers a service- focused class and student groups, community fundraising opportunities and school service projects.
Grant Hoeger, a junior at Beckman, said that even without the service requirement, most students still would do the volunteer work.
His wrestling coach requires the team to serve together through activities such as setting up Christmas decorations at a local church and helping with youth wrestling meets.
He said the service he has done throughout his time in school has made him a better person.
“It forces me to work with people that sometimes I’m not usually around,” he said.
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