ERIC Identifier: ED351425
Publication Date: 1992-09-00
Author: Lewis, Anne
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education New York NY.
Urban Youth in Community Service: Becoming Part of the Solution. ERIC/CUE Digest, Number 81.
Ever since Williams James called for American youth to be enlisted in "a moral equivalent of war" more than 80 years ago, youth service, in its many forms, has been a recurring issue for public debate. Youth service programs can be school-based or offered through non-school groups. Some function only in the summer. Programs can also operate for out-of-school youth, as the youth corps, and can be residential.
The programs go by several names, among them experiential learning, service learning, and voluntary youth service. Each type is distinct, but the following discussion looks at the field broadly, with some examples of the range of programs available for urban youth.
GENERAL CIVIC INVOLVEMENT OF URBAN YOUTH
An earlier study found that urban schools themselves do not push civic involvement; of the 44 urban school systems surveyed, only six kept records of students who registered to vote, and only seven offered incentives for registration (People for the American Way, 1988). Black and Hispanic students graduating from high school are poorly informed about civic responsibility: only 23-29 percent of minority students reached the third of four proficiency levels in civics as seniors, compared to 55 percent of whites (NAEP, 1988).
Despite these findings, many national, state, and local groups view service programs as "hooks" for engaging low-income urban youth in positive actions and for linking classroom learning to their future options. Indeed, a national program of voluntary service has been suggested as a way of preventing dropping out of school (Sherraden, 1991). Instead of becoming dropouts, youth could become national service participants and move back and forth between service and school programs. Moreover, participation in service programs can foster self-esteem and a sense of belonging to and responsibility for their communities in urban youth.
SPECIAL ISSUES IN URBAN PROGRAMS
In the past few years urban programs have leaned toward youth corps for out-of-school young people. Corps tend to segregate low-income participants into experiences directed more at job preparation than at civic service (Lewis, 1988). While they provide comprehensive, practical experiences for urban youth, they focus on rehabilitating those at risk. School-based community service in the suburbs, by contrast, tends to be more focused on the altruism inherent in community service. But these programs also lack participant diversity. A policy issue for program developers, then, is to figure out how to bring young people from different types of communities together through their service work.
BENEFITS OF URBAN SERVICE PROGRAMS
IN-SCHOOL PROGRAMS IN URBAN SYSTEMS
One of the early district-wide programs was that of the Atlanta public schools, Duty to the Community. Begun in 1988, it requires students to do 75 hours of unpaid community service during their high school years and to write an essay about it (National School Boards Association, 1987). Another mandated service program, at the Central Park East Secondary School in New York City, includes many of the elements that proponents of youth service say are necessary for quality experiences: it is required of all students throughout their school years (grades 7-12, in this case), and is well-supervised at school and at the service sites.
A program initially involving two San Antonio school districts targets service opportunities at potential dropouts. The Valued Youth Partnership Program selects middle-school students, provides them with training to be tutors, and assigns them to elementary students needing help. The students receive stipends and rewards, such as a banquet and T-shirts. It has consistently reduced absenteeism and behavioral problems among participants and improved their academic records (Harrington & Schine, 1989), and has now expanded to five additional districts with help from the original sponsor, the Coca-Cola Company.
Another long-lasting, innovative program is the Early Adolescent Helper Program, started as a pilot project in 1982 and now involving more than 200 junior high school students in 14 New York City schools. The students provide child care in day care centers, tutor in after-school programs, and help senior citizens (Harrington & Schine, 1989).
The Youth Community Service program of the Constitutional Rights Foundation selects students who are not involved in school life to participate in service and, thus, build their leadership skills. Working primarily in schools serving low-income families in Los Angeles, the program gives students training in planning and organization, then helps them assume key roles in creating and managing service projects in their schools and communities (Herman & Burry, 1987).
OUT-OF-SCHOOL PROGRAMS FOR STUDENTS
Another example of a successful out-of-school managed program is MAGIC ME. A privately funded program started in Baltimore, it enrolls highly at-risk young adolescents in a service project where they visit and sponsor activities for residents of nursing homes (Rolzinski, 1990).
THE GROWTH OF URBAN YOUTH CORPS
Research indicates that the conservation corps model has been successfully transplanted to the city and to the human services field, such as schools, hospitals, and senior citizen centers. Research on traditional conservation corps says that residential corps arrangements benefit only the most disadvantaged corps members (Branch et al., 1987).
THE FUTURE OF SERVICE FOR URBAN YOUTH
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Harrington, D., & Schine, J. (1989). Connections: Service learning in the middle grades: A survey conducted by the Early Adolescent Helper Program. New York: Center for Advanced Study in Education/CASE, Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York. (ED 322 256)
Harrison, C. (1987). Student service: The new Carnegie unit. Princeton: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Herman, J., & Burry, J. (1987). Evaluation report of the Constitutional Rights Foundation's Youth Community Service Program. Los Angeles: Center for the Study of Evaluation, Graduate School of Education, University of California.
Lewis, A. (1988). Facts and faith: A status report on youth service. Washington, DC: William T. Grant Foundation Commission on Work, Family and Citizenship.
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