Point/Counterpoint: Honor Society volunteering during Covid-19

Giving+back+during+a+pandemic+is+important%2C+but+in-person+volunteering+has+the+potential+to+put+students%2C+families+and+the+community+at+risk.+Art+by+Mia+Tavares.+

Mia Tavares

Giving back during a pandemic is important, but in-person volunteering has the potential to put students, families and the community at risk. Art by Mia Tavares.

Ishika Kaushik and Mia Tavares

Should Honor Society require service hours during the Covid-19 pandemic?

Yes, service hours are even more important during the pandemic

Mia Tavares

On March 23, 2020, Governor Jay Inslee issued a statewide stay-at-home order that was scheduled to last at least two weeks. Now, eight months later, Inslee has instituted another restriction period, this one lasting four weeks, to once again slow the rise of COVID-19 cases in Washington state. As of Dec. 2, 2020, there have been 178,000 cases in Washington State and 45,830 cases in King County.

The continued spread of COVID-19 is not to be taken lightly. In response to the pandemic, the National Honor Society has reduced the required service hours , making it so that NHS students now have to get 15 service hours total while complying with all of the restrictions put in place due to COVID-19. The restrictions include prohibitions on indoor social gatherings — unless the guests undergo a 14-day quarantine — and outdoor gatherings, limited to five people outside of one’s own household.

However, despite the challenges these restrictions pose to volunteers, the current circumstances necessitate community service more than ever. Schools restaurants and entertainment sites have been unable to operate because of the COVID-19 pandemic. With all of these locations closed, there is a greater need for volunteering. While many may argue that volunteering puts students at risk, there are contactless options available.

While it is understandably not an option for susceptible students to physically volunteer in their communities, many initiatives can be done from home. Students can utilize Zoom, which opens up a world of possibilities that many organizations have taken advantage of, setting up online volunteering, including the United Nations, Smithsonian Digital Volunteers, Translators Without Borders, Crisis Text Line and Zooniverse. Even if students cannot claim a spot in an organization, they can still volunteer in other ways online to complete their Valhalla hours. Opportunities such as becoming a Link leader or tutoring through Zoom can help students complete a significant chunk of their hours.

Without service hours, NHS loses the integrity of its organization. The only two requirements of Inglemoor’s NHS are maintaining a 3.5 GPA and getting 15 service hours. The NHS states that “the purpose of National Honor Society shall be to create enthusiasm for scholarship, to stimulate a desire to render service, to promote leadership, and to develop character in the students of secondary schools.” If service hours are dropped, NHS would simply become an organization for those with a high GPA and would no longer follow this purpose.

The pandemic without a doubt presents unique challenges to NHS students, but it is written with the purpose that students have a “desire to render service.” As such, service hours are an integral part of the organization that cannot be sacrificed. If service hours were completely unattainable, then requiring them would make no sense; however, with a plethora of ways to serve during the pandemic, this is not the case.

No, safety takes precedence over service

Ishika Kaushik

As of Nov. 29, there have been a total of 43,856 COVID-19 cases in King County, 1,597 on Nov. 29 alone, and 885 deaths. When the virus first emerged in the area around March 7, there were only 24 reported cases. The deadly third wave of the pandemic is concerning and thus schools must take steps to alleviate community contact during this time. Washington Governor Jay Inslee has already imposed a four-week restriction period which started on  Nov.16 to slow the spread of the virus. Indoor social gatherings are prohibited unless the individuals undergo a 14-day quarantine and outdoor gatherings are limited to five people outside of one’s household.

Although the National Honor Society (NHS) has reduced the service hours requirement by half, five Valhalla and 10 Individual, students will still have to participate in events in the community to obtain these hours. This is not equitable for all students as many live with those who are considered high risk for contracting the virus. These students have to exercise extra caution and care on a daily basis.

So far, many of the organized Valhalla opportunities have been drive-through donations, such as the book donation drive to gather reading materials for a school in Malawi and the Halloween-themed donation and supply drive, Inglemoor Gives Back. While these are safer options to help the community in these unprecedented times, there is still the risk of contact between the event organizers and participants. The overarching decision to require service hours is simply not practical or viable, as cases continue to rise in Washington. 

While it is true that Inglemoor Honor Society has been organizing and finding creative ways for students to continually be involved in the community, such as working as a math tutor or writing letters to a senior resident in Kenmore Senior Living, students should be allowed to decide if and how they wish to volunteer and help in the community at this time based on their own familial needs and the cautionary measures they have chosen to follow. 

Staying connected with the community and helping others in whatever way possible are steps we should all be taking as Washington faces the third wave of the pandemic. Aligned with these goals, Honor Society’s mission should be to continue to provide students with resources they can take advantage of to make someone’s day without requiring a set number of hours from each student. Creativity should be encouraged and students should be able to get an Honor Society certificate regardless of the exact number of hours they have helped, volunteered, or donated. As long as students receive more than zero hours, they should be considered NHS members this year. An easy way for students to get hours could be through projects they are working on in service clubs such as Red Cross or Feeding America. The pandemic has affected each person in unique ways that may hinder a person’s ability to work as a volunteer. Some families have been financially impacted whereas others have faced emotional burdens. 

Accordingly, deciding to put the club fees on hold until next March when all of the hours are due was a noteworthy step taken by the district. COVID-19 has left many families unemployed, necessitating a need for financial flexibility. Given Governor Jay Inslee’s recent restrictions, it is also important that we tailor volunteering requirements to provide greater support to students and families. The NHS should provide more leniency for students through extended deadlines and removing the requirements for hours.

Students should still have a fair chance at participating in the NHS if they choose to do so. Thus, given the circumstances of this disruptive year and the spike in cases, students should be encouraged to volunteer when it is safe to do so and should be rewarded regardless of the exact number of hours they are able to attain.