What does it take to get youth to volunteer to help others and improve America's communities? Just ask them, and most will say "yes."
According to a study released last week by the US Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics - which reinforces earlier findings on this same subject - 93 percent of teenagers who were asked to volunteer actually did, compared with 24 percent of those who were not asked.
"This just goes to show you that if we build it, they will come," said US Secretary of Education Richard Riley. "This report couldn't be more timely. I was in Philadelphia ... to help kick off President Clinton's Summit on America's Future, which will help generate a new spirit of volunteerism in America. This initiative will reemphasize our civic responsibility to make America better through citizen service."
Student Participation in Community Service Activity examines data from the 1996 National Household Education Survey, Youth Civic Involvement component, in which 8,000 students in grades six through 12 were asked about their participation in community-service activities.
At the time of the interview, nearly half (49 percent) of the students reported being involved in community service during the 1995-96 school year.
Twenty-six percent said they participate regularly. The most important factor in student participation appeared to be whether schools arranged or offered community service.
Citing earlier research, the report stated that the effects of community-service programs indicate that they can have measurable, positive results for high school students. For example, in a study of 10 programs, participating students were found to have experienced more psychological, social, and intellectual growth than nonparticipating students.
Another study reported that students who did volunteer work developed a more socially responsible perspective than students who did not.
Other findings include:
*The more types of activities students did, such as student government, the more likely they would participate in community service.
*Among participating students, those in schools that required and arranged community service were more likely to have their community-service experiences integrated into their school work than students in schools that only arranged service or did not promote it.
*Families provide strong role models when it comes to community service. Students in households where at least one adult was active in volunteer service were much more likely to participate themselves than were students in households lacking such role models.
*Students in private schools, especially church-related schools, were more likely to be involved than students in other types of schools.
*Female students with good grades, who spoke English at home, were active in other types of activities, lived with educated parents, or with adults who were active in community service were more likely to be involved in community service.