TURLOCK -- Students looking to graduate from high school here will have to add another elective to their academic requirements: could be filing, could be cooking, could be directing hospital visitors to a patient's room.
Tuesday night, the Turlock Unified School District board of trustees approved adding a community service component to the district's high school graduation requirements.
According to Assistant Superintendent Lacrisha Ferriera, the requirement will help promote responsible citizenship among students. Members of the committee that came up with the proposal have received enthusiastic responses from several area charitable groups and service organizations, including the Chamber of Commerce, Emanuel Medical Center and Turlock Gospel Mission.
"It's a win-win situation with both our community agencies and our students," Ferriera said.
If the requirement passes a second reading before the board next month, it will immediately go into effect: Sophomores and juniors will have to put in five hours per year, and seniors 10 hours.
The volunteer hours will factor into grades for history and government classes. Students who don't want to volunteer, or whose parents aren't comfortable with the idea, can opt out and write a 2,000-word community service essay, citing at least three sources, instead.
Many districts have similar requirements: Trustee Harinder Grewal pointed out that his children, who took part in the International Baccalaureate program at Modesto High School, had to volunteer for 150 hours over their last two years of high school.
"Once they were done with those 150 hours ... it honestly made them better students," he said. "They were a lot more organized."
And they stayed with it, which is another goal of the requirement. Grewal's son graduated but still puts in five hours a week with the Stanislaus County Library.
Trustees were enthusiastic about the idea but concerned about potential liability.
Superintendent Sonny DaMarto said most organizations have liability insurance to cover volunteers.
Ferriera will gather more information about liability before the final vote on the requirement.
"There are so many kids who do these things already, but there are some who don't," Trustee Frank Lima said. "This is going to motivate those who don't."
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2343.