Instead of watching movies or playing videos games, 16-year-olds Emmett Carrier and Evan Foley are on their fourth month researching how residents and visitors can prevent pollution in local waters.
The project is part of the friends’ requirements to graduate high school. For 15 years, juniors at Friday Harbor High School have been mandated to take a semester-long course to complete an involuntary, voluntary project to help people, animals or the environment.
“Even though it is a mandatory class, it is something that is special to our school and will look good to colleges because we chose something that we have such a high interest in,” said Carrier.
Today, students across the country require more than good grades to graduate from high school and enter college; they also have to be altruistic. Educational institutions aren’t just preparing students to be future academic leaders, but ethical ones as well.
In 2016, the Harvard Graduate School of Education released a report to alter the college admissions process by focusing on ethical contributions over academic successes. At least 175 other colleges, including all of the Ivy League schools, signed onto the manifesto, which, according to the website for Harvard’s graduate school of education, aims to “promote greater ethical engagement among aspiring students [and] reduce excessive achievement pressure.”
Jenny Wilson, who has taught the high school’s community service course for eight years, has seen students’ projects help seniors be accepted into colleges. To Wilson, the course is a culmination of the students’ academic skills, like researching, combined with real-world applications, like working with others.
“I think colleges these days look at grades, but they also look at the whole child,” she said “How they can organize themselves, how they can complete something they are passionate about. It’s more than just SATs anymore.”
For Carrier and Foley, preparing for college includes working with adults, like high school STEM teacher Derek Smith and local researcher Stevens Roberts during the course. Smith served as the pair’s mentor, which students must find to guide them through projects, and Roberts loaned his ROV to search for underwater pollution at the Port of Friday Harbor. Carrier and Foley spent about six hours with Roberts and the ROV, looking roughly 20 meters below the water to find garbage such as plastic bottles and tires. The pair plans to hang fliers at the port to explain how the items they found affect the area’s marine life.
“Now that they have a good idea of what pollution is occurring in the harbor, they can relay that information to the people using the marina,” said Smith. “Getting people to think about their impact on our waters is truly the best effort to prevent pollution.”
The class creates a reciprocal cycle: the work performed by students helps the community, and the need for community support helps the students fill their graduation requirement.
The duo, said Carrier, used the course to both help San Juan today and prepare for their goals, tomorrow.
“We are really interested in the science field, so we wanted to push that forward in our community project so we had more real-world uses,” said Carrier. “[The class is] a graduation requirement, but it’s more about what you do for your project and how it impacts our community.”
Washington state has encouraged community service for high school graduates since 2013 — roughly a decade after Friday Harbor High School established its criteria. This year, 77 juniors will join the estimated thousand graduates who have taken Friday Harbor’s community service course since its inception, coaching a generation to give back.
Research shows that volunteering at a young age motivates ongoing service. According to a 2003 report by the National Center for Education Statistics, 42 percent of students who volunteered in high school continued eight years later, while only 26 percent of those who didn’t volunteer in high school did so in that time frame.
Wilson has witnessed such effects, first hand through a program she helped form at the Jane Goodall Foundation. Before her work in Friday Harbor, Wilson helped youth create their own community service projects in China, Costa Rica and Qatar. Many of those kids contact her today about their continued work in fields they fell in love with as youth volunteers.
Like those adolescents, Wilson encourages Friday Harbor students to pick a project from the heart; a passion that will see them through the four-month course and into adulthood.
“I know [students] have to take this class, but I hope that by taking it they get a lot out of it, and I think they do,” said Wilson. “Sometimes kids feel powerless when they see all these problems in the world and they feel like they can’t do anything about it. This program shows them that any individual can make a difference.”
Learn about the projects from 5-7 p.m., Jan. 16, at the high school, as students present their work. Second-semester students will present projects in the spring.
How Students Helped
Juniors completed the following projects during the first semester of the community service class:
- Covered benches at Linde Park.
- Taught a theater class to children.
- Created a chemical-free cleaner for the high school.
- Repainted the elementary playground, crosswalk.
- Gave ecological tours of Mount Young.
- Landscaped the school district office.
- Wrote new biographies for adoptable pets at the Animal Protection Society of Friday Harbor.
- Helped KWIAHT identify local lizards.
- Shot video for Wolf Hollow Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.
- Prevented pollution at the Port of Friday Harbor.
- Added scoreboard to Linde Park.
- Built goat shed for Island Haven Animal Sanctuary.
- Organized Island Haven Animal Sanctuary ThanksLiving.
- Trained dogs with PADS for Parkinson’s.
- Built shelves at the local fire station.
- Added benches to Hartman Field.
- Formed a high school service club through local Rotary.
- Conserved energy at the high school.
- Updated an available scholarships list for local students.
- Taught organization to sixth-graders.
- Curated personalized iPods for locals with memory loss.
- Installed gym equipment at Sunken Park.