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
Most young people,
wherever they live and no matter what their socioeconomic status, are not
involved in community service regularly or even occasionally (People for the
American Way, 1988). However, African American students, surveyed as tenth
graders in 1990, performed more community service regularly than did any other
racial group. Students in urban schools also had a slightly greater rate of
participation than those in suburban or rural schools. Still, regular
participation is low--11 percent for blacks, 9 percent for urban students. It
was only 7 percent for all tenth graders.
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
Many urban youth feel
alienated and hostile toward their community and toward institutions in
particular (McGillicuddy, 1991). Thus, community service can become equated with
institutions of which they disapprove and be difficult to "sell" as something
worthwhile. When community service is mandatory, as in the state of Maryland and
in cities such as Atlanta and Detroit, parents and students sometimes complain
that service requirements detract from the time needed for paying jobs. Another
issue unique to low-income urban youth is possible payment for community
service. Many of the most successful programs provide stipends and/or education
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
No matter what type of
youth service is studied, the research on the benefits is consistent across
socioeconomic groups. Well-designed service learning promotes academic
achievement, competence, self-confidence, and self-esteem. It creates empathy
for others and builds skills in problem solving and in working cooperatively
(Grant Commission, 1988). Service opportunities stimulate skills specifically
useful for future employment--skills which many urban youth do not see modeled
in their neighborhoods--punctuality and reliability, responsibility for task
completion, getting along with others, and good grooming (Harrison, 1987).
IN-SCHOOL PROGRAMS IN URBAN SYSTEMS
The Federal National
and Community Service Act, passed in 1990, is providing seed money, training,
and research for programs throughout the country. Even before this investment,
however, several urban districts had adopted their own policies and programs
promoting youth service sponsored by the schools.
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
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
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,
OUT-OF-SCHOOL PROGRAMS FOR STUDENTS
Community service is an
integral component of many youth-serving agencies in the inner cities, such as
the Scouts; 4-H Clubs; Girls, Inc.; and Boys Clubs.
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
state-sponsored youth corps summer programs have enrolled a cross-section of
youth, the major corps of the 1980s and now 1990s draw primarily from urban
low-income, out-of-school youth. The first such urban youth corps developed in
San Francisco, drawing its ideas from the very successful--though
expensive--California Conservation Corps. The City Volunteer Corps in New York
City soon followed. Its enrollees work in both physical and human service sites,
receive education programs tailored to their needs, (e.g., English as a Second
Language or GED instruction); and earn a substantial education bonus at the end
of a year's service, as well as weekly stipends. Public/Private Ventures (P/PV)
and the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps, building on
P/PV's work with an urban corps in Philadelphia, received funding to expand the
corps to 12 additional urban sites in 1991.
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
The National and
Community Service Act, both through its grants and through giving visibility to
youth service, already is stirring up greater interest in the multiple values of
youth service beyond the contributions it makes to communities. Even without
this support, however, there is sufficient research evidence and programmatic
success with service programs involving urban youth to justify much greater
attention to how they can help reinforce the goals of schooling and improve the
neighborhoods around schools.
Branch, A., Leiderman, S., & Smith, T.
(1987). Youth Conservation and Service Corps: Findings from a national
assessment. Philadelphia: Public/Private Ventures.
William T. Grant Foundation Commission on Work, Family and Citizenship.
(1988). Citizenship through service. Washington, DC: Author. (ED 325 569)
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
McGillicuddy, K. (1991). Response to Karen Pitman, future choices.
Washington, DC: Youth Policy Institute.
National Assessment of Educational Progress. (1988). The civics report card.
Princeton: Educational Testing Service.
National School Boards Association. (1987). Building Character in public
schools. Alexandria, VA: Author.
People for the American Way. (1988). Democracy's next generation: A study of
youth and teachers. Washington, DC: Author. (ED 324 253)
Rolzinski, C. (1990). The adventure of adolescence: Middle school students
and community service. Washington, DC: Youth Service America.
Sherraden, M. (1991). Youth participation in America: A historical view of
changing institutions. Washington, DC: National Youth Service Secretariat.