When I mention the words “community service” what comes to mind? Criminals perhaps, in bright orange mesh vests picking up trash on the side of the freeway. Unfortunately many teenagers experience this kind of community service as their first major form of discipline. So basically we are teaching them that giving time to help the community is a punishment, reserved for outcasts and law breakers. What is wrong with this picture?
As child psychologists know, in attempting to discipline groups of kids, it is more effective to give rewards and positive acknowledgement for good behavior, than to give attention to bad behavior. I’m not sure if the same science carries over to young adults, but I would guess so.
What if- instead of using community service as a penalty- we used it as a reward? Imagine you are a high school freshman sitting in English class. You finished your writing assignment, did some extra credit work and now the teacher is handing you a “community service pass.” With this highly coveted “pass” you are allowed to miss thirty minutes of class to help clean up the school park, enjoy a short break and get some fresh air. Your classmates are all jealous because you have the privilege of doing service work for the neighborhood.
Its no easy task to fundamentally change a broken system, but if we don’t lead the way, who will? I envision a future where the words “community service” makes people think of student body presidents painting park benches and valedictorians proudly picking weeds in a community garden. Bright orange mesh vests optional.

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Tags: community, service., youth

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