A new initiative started by East Valley High School to allow students to do community service instead of detention time is the first of its kind in the Valley. The idea is to have students atone for their behavior by making a contribution to the community instead of staring at four walls.
“It’s always a struggle to find something to change behavior,” said assistant principal Stephanie Watson.
It was obvious that detention was not a deterrent. “We have students with over 100 hours (of detention),” she said. “It becomes overwhelming so they give up and keep getting more.”
She’s hoping that students will be able to learn something about their community and about themselves if they volunteer at a local nonprofit. “I think it was the whole idea of giving back,” Watson said. “You took something from your community, now you have to give something back.”
One hour of community service is worth an hour of detention. Right now there is a list of approved organizations, including Spokane Valley Partners, Habitat for Humanity, the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery, homeless shelters and area animal shelters. Students also have the option of helping the high school custodial staff or suggesting another local agency.
Students can get detention for a wide range of infractions, everything from being late to class or an inappropriate display of affection. Most detentions are given in the disobedience/disrespect category, with tardies and truancies another significant portion, said Watson.
The school also is revamping how it dispenses detention. It used to be that the school doubled a student’s detention if it wasn’t completed it by the end of the school year. In the past the school handed out one hour of detention for each period of class missed, whereas now it’s one hour for each incident. “In the past we have suspended kids for having too much detention,” she said. “That doesn’t work. We don’t want our kids out of school.”
So far only a handful of students have taken advantage of the community service option, though Watson expects a rush at the end of the year, particularly with seniors. A student must fulfill all their detention requirements in order to get a diploma.
Sophomore Caitlin MacFarlane earned two hours of detention her freshman year for being late to P.E. class. Her mother heard about the new program and suggested that she do community service. “She knew it would be something I would like to do instead of just sitting around in the classroom,” she said.
MacFarlane is no stranger to community service. Her grandmother and aunt volunteer at the Spokane Valley Partners Clothing Bank every Thursday and MacFarlane herself volunteered there regularly one summer. So when she learned about the new program, it seemed natural to do her community service at the clothing bank.
One Thursday last summer, MacFarlane spent the entire six hours the clothing bank was open sorting clothes and taking empty hangers off the racks to be refilled. She gave no thought to leaving as soon as her two hours were up. “It was fun, because my grandma and my aunt made it fun,” she said. “They always had me doing stuff. I wasn’t just sitting there waiting.”
While she hasn’t heard of many other people taking advantage of the new community service program, she thinks it’s a good idea. “I don’t think they learn anything by sitting in a room,” she said.
Students interested in the program must fill out an application and select an agency to volunteer with. The school can help set up the volunteer time if the student wants, Watson said. But the program isn’t like a savings account and doesn’t allow students to do more community service than required in anticipation of future detention. At least one student has already inquired about that possibility, Watson said.
Watson hopes the program turns out to be effective and a benefit for students. “It’s a work in progress,” she said.