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The more you give

Published Sep. 1, 2005

Among the lessons some high school students are being taught these days is one about community, and 18-year-old Ashley May took it to heart. "The more you give," she says, "the more you get back."

May, a Bradenton graduate who has done everything from tutoring mentally handicapped children in her community to building homes in Puerto Rico, is a cheerful example of the growing number of students who serve their community while in high school. As Times writer Adrienne Lu reports, 83 percent of college freshmen last year said they had performed community work in their high school years _ a jump of 26 percent in just more than a decade.

This trend toward community service has a coercive element to it, as high schools build such programs into their curricula and college admissions counselors give them weight. But the effect is still a positive one. Students are placed in environments that teach them valuable life skills, whether at a hospice or a nursing home or an animal shelter.

High school counselors find that some students, once prodded, give more freely of their time. The medical program at Palm Harbor University High, for example, requires that students commit to 200 community service hours, but has found that students average 233 hours. "There's a huge altruistic component to it," says Connie Boyle, a guidance counselor at St. Petersburg High School. "It may begin as a duty, but these kids certainly embrace their projects."

At a time when educational success is being so narrowly measured and extracurricular opportunities so severely limited, community service holds promise. Done well, it enriches learning and shows students that not all lessons are drawn from a text book.