The update on community service at Evanston Township High School showed increases in enrollment in the school’s Community Service Club and in a number of community-service-department-sponsored activities and a projected increase of service hours reported by students – 12,000 hours expected, as compared to just over 8,000 hours last year. About 1,400 students report community service hours, according to trend data from ETHS.

The jump in service activities sponsored by the Community Service Department – from 45 last year to 93 so far this year – comes from “turning over activities to the leadership of students,” Ms. Collins to the School Board at its Feb. 24 meeting.

Although students across the spectrum at ETHS perform and report community service, most are female, most are white, and most are juniors, said Community Service Coordinator Mary Collins.

“We have very good numbers, but we still have students who are not involved in community service or not reporting their hours.  She said she encourages students to report their hours, so they will have a record when they apply for a job, an internship or a more responsible volunteer position.

Student Board member Russell Brady said, “A lot of students will just do a couple of hours of community service on a weekend and not report it.”

“We want the hours so we can track them and find out who’s doing what,” said Ms. Collins, “but we tell students, ‘What you did and how you helped your community is the most important thing.’”

Ms. Collins said the two main objectives for the Community Service Department are to increase the number of after-school chaperoned opportunities for community service and to increase the number of courses that incorporate “service learning” into their curriculum.

Ms. Collins distinguished between service learning and volunteering. “Service, or volunteering, is offering one’s abilities and skills. … Students sign up, volunteer and have a great time, but they may not understand the root causes [of the problem their volunteer service is addressing]. … With service learning, students would research an issue, plan a project and reflect on the process,” she said.

“It’s great if a teacher can help incorporate planning – it gives a richer experience,” Ms. Collins said. She added she would like to shift the culture at ETHS to one of service learning.  She said research shows that students who do service learning have better relationships with their peers and are more likely to stay in school.

Some classes at ETHS already incorporate service learning. The most visible of these is the Geometry in Construction class, which, along with school and community volunteers, is building a house in one of the school’s parking lots. When it is completed, it will be moved a few blocks away and sold as affordable housing to an income-eligible family.

Ms. Collins said in the next few weeks she will be learning what other schools do in the way of community service and service learning and will report afterward to the Board.

On March 7, staff members will attend “The Roundtable Discussion on Civic Learning” with the schools in their conference. The meeting will be held at the UIC Forum. ETHS is partnering with the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition (ICMC), part of the McCormick Foundation, for the event.

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...