By Stefanie Jackson – Northampton County is making a community effort to ensure Northampton High School students log the community service hours they need to graduate, resulting in meaningful experiences that inspire kids to go above and beyond the minimum requirements.
The words “community service” might conjure images of prisoners picking up trash on the roadside, but Northampton High School staff teach students that community service is any activity – including a fun activity – that makes a positive impact on the community.
The result? Last year, about 10 students performed 100 hours or more of community service, and they were recognized for their achievements at the annual senior banquet.
The students whose community service numbers hit three digits are usually the kids who volunteer at summer camps and similar programs, said NHS guidance counselor Ivory Turner.
Programs that help students rack up big community service numbers include 4-H Camp, Splash Camp in Cape Charles, Northampton County Parks and Recreation in Machipongo, Boys and Girls Club in Exmore, Camp Occohannock in Belle Haven, and the YMCA in Onley.
There are plenty of community service options up and down the Eastern Shore, so students with limited transportation can find an opportunity close to home, Turner said.
The summer programs have helped put many students over the top, like Durell Robinson, who graduated in 2018 with about 300 hours of community service under his belt.
At Northampton’s 2019 graduation ceremony, audience members were astounded by the announcement that Freddie Elmandorf III had completed 634 hours of community service, more than double the previous record.
But there are many other ways students can earn community service hours.
Students can attend summer school to assist teachers and perform light office work.
They can get hours by tutoring their peers in a new program sponsored by the SGA (Student Government Association), starting Dec. 1. Peer tutors must be knowledgeable in the subjects they teach and be recommended for the job by their teachers.
Students can volunteer to referee Shore Soccer games or help out at community events like the Northampton County Agricultural Fair, held annually at the old Northampton Middle School in Machipongo, or Festive Fridays in Cape Charles.
Homecoming, prom, and graduation are events that can help kids get community service hours right on school grounds. For example, a student can help organize and clean up after the homecoming pep rally, assist with the homecoming parade, or be the mascot at the football game.
One easy way to get a few extra community service hours is to donate canned or dry goods to the National Honor Society’s annual Thanksgiving food drive. A student can earn one hour of community service for every five items donated.
Each student may earn up to six hours of community service per year through food donations.
Northampton County Public Schools require each high school student to log at least 40 hours of community service before graduation, or an average of 10 hours per year for four years.
A student who performs at least 50 hours of community service may be eligible to receive a gold seal on his or her diploma from the Virginia Board of Education for excellence in civics education.
Other requirements for the special seal include a grade of B or higher in both Virginia and U.S. history and Virginia and U.S. government and good attendance with no discipline problems.
Making sure all Northampton High School students complete their required community service hours is a team effort that starts with Turner when she sits down with each eighth grader near the end of the school year for a transition meeting.
Students are made aware of the community service hours they need for graduation, and Turner advises them to put in a few hours every year instead of trying to do all 40 hours during senior year.
Throughout each school year, Turner receives community requests for volunteers by email and phone. All community service opportunities are announced over the intercom, and notices are posted in the guidance office. Teachers create additional opportunities.
PE teacher and volleyball coach Cathy Doughty coordinates opportunities for students to get community service hours at Kiptopeke and Occohannock Elementary School by helping out on field days.
Jobs for Virginia Graduates teacher Sandra Chandler shows students how to crochet, and they get community service hours by making blankets, hats, and scarves for nursing home residents.
Other staff who help ensure student success in serving the community include high school counselor Kevin Whitman, guidance secretary Tamika Fortin, ACCESS advisor Devin Allen, and career coach Suzie Henderson.
They make sure there are community service opportunities for everyone, and “regardless how big or small,” each student’s contribution is important, Turner said.
It’s “phenomenal … the motivation that they get to do their very best.”