Pali Community Service Program Needs Reform

By Dexter O'Connell (Former Managing Editor, Former Columnist) [?]

Published: March 13, 2009 and Updated: April 28, 2009
Reprinted From The Pali Tideline

Arbitrariness, capriciousness, and vindictiveness are three traits that characterize the Palisades Administration. One area which exemplifies these traits is the community service program. Service is currently administered by one person, who has absolute and unchecked power to decide whether service hours meet the oft-shifting definitions of “homeless, helpless and hungry.” This situation is untenable, and it is why the Board of Directors must approve the revisions in the service policy currently proposed by a group of students courageous enough to stand up to the system in a meaningful way.

I first heard anecdotally of incidents of capricious and arbitrary behavior by Director of Community service Ms. Gretchen Miller even before I came to Pali. I dismissed them as rumors by disgruntled students. I had only one experience with Ms. Miller in my first two years at Pali. She came into my ninth-grade english class and talked for twenty minutes about her metaphysical relationship with the dolphins at the beach. I am not much into metaphysics, but I certainly understand how one can form a strong bond with an animal, and so I found the discussion mildly interesting, and certainly more entertaining than a regular English class.

In eleventh grade, I started to think more about community service. I had already done dozens of hours in the study center, but I had not turned them in yet. I wondered if my service would be compromised. This feeling would not be alleviated by a story I heard in math class. My math teacher told us that several years ago, she had set her students a project. They would clean up the quad, counting the amount of trash left each day. They would then use this as an applied statistics simulation for Algebra II. They would also get community service credit for their work in the quad. But when they turned in their papers in an effort to get their service credit, some had a big surprise awaiting them. Many had their hours cut, though they did the exact same task as their classmates. According to the teacher, there was no rhyme or reason to the cutting. This turned out to be the tip of the iceberg. There are many similar stories that I have heard recently.

Hours being cut or rejected with questionable cause is an unfortunate practice. When one person controls a system and has near-complete authority, certain decisions might appear to be capricious. The committee proposed by the student group may help to rectify this situation. Elected members of a committee would be able to exercise some oversight, and bring some needed sanity to the A-building. This sanity would hopefully adjust the service process. Dropping off cans of food counts for hours, but volunteering packing boxes for veterans does not? Running in a run-walk counts, but assisting directly in a children’s program doesn’t count if even one kid is paying? These are but a few of the hypocrisies of the service system. Who is helpless who is being tutored in the study center? Who is homeless, helpless, or hungry when you run a run-walk and donate nothing and still earn hours? How is a life-long commitment to service instilled by your mother buying the cheapest canned goods she can at the 99 cents store and dropping them off at Ms. Miller’s door? How is a lifelong commitment to service instilled by doing laps on the track? How can a lifelong commitment to service possibly be instilled by rejecting genuine service to the community? These questions could, perhaps, be answered by the committee.

We don’t know, I suppose, until we try. The Board of Directors must approve the new committee at its March meeting.

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