As a citizen of Maryland, mother of a public school student and advocate of "service learning" in schools, I would urge the readers of the June 28 front-page article on service learning in Maryland schools not to throw out the baby with the bath water [" `Serving' the Community -- Without Leaving School"]. Perhaps this fledgling program deserves its mixed reviews, but its objectives are admirable. Let's refine and improve rather than condemn it.
My organization recently completed a study of community service (plain old volunteer work) and service learning (volunteer opportunities provided within an academic context) in independent schools nationwide. We discovered that two key features of a successful program are student involvement in project planning and providing students with opportunities for meaningful reflection on their work, whether in the form of journal-keeping, formal or informal discussions, essays, presentations or art projects.
The situation in public schools mirrors that in private schools: 44 percent of independent school programs are voluntary, 56 percent required. But no matter how we approach the issue of service, in public schools or private, we share the same goal: educating our young people to be well-informed, involved citizens.
Vice President, Educational Leadership
National Association of Independent Schools