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How software streamlined our community service program

Until last year, we were nearly drowning in the paperwork of an antiquated, cumbersome community service system. Then we discovered x2VOL

Here are ten tips for going paperless with a high school community service program.

Giving back to the community through volunteer service is a value we want to instill in our students at Morton Ranch High School in Texas. In the 2012-13 school year, more than 600 students gave more than 9,000 hours to local charities and organizations through our community service club, MAVS (Maverick Achieving through Volunteer Service).

Technology has made it much easier to manage such a large and diverse program. But it wasn’t always this way. Until last year, we were nearly drowning in the paperwork of an antiquated, cumbersome system.

We have more than 100 organizations connected to our school through mentoring, career days, job shadowing, and community service, so the transition wasn’t without its challenges. But when we discovered x2VOL, we jumped at the chance to ditch the binders and go paperless. Here’s the before-and-after picture of how our community service program has changed for the better.

(Next page: How software has improved our community service program tremendously)

Signing students up for MAVS

Before: We used to put a MAVS flyer and sign-up form in every student’s opening-day packet. It took weeks for our parent volunteers to shuffle through the hundreds of new students to add them into our distribution list.

Students signed up to work at a charity by calling or eMailing the organization directly. Each organization was responsible for verifying a student’s hours by signing a form the student brought. Problems arose when students forgot to bring the form or forgot to show up for their appointed time.

Now: When students log in to x2VOL, they see a list of available opportunities based on interests they specified when registering for MAVS. Students click “sign up” to pick an activity, which then goes into their log. An eMail reminder is automatically sent prior to the event. Students can use recurring activities or create custom events.

Publicizing community service opportunities

Before: Partners in Education (PIE)—a program organized by our district, Katy Independent School District—initially helped us meet hundreds of local organizations and businesses. However, after the initial connection, requesting student help took too much time.

Organizations told us what kind of help they needed, including the number of students, dates, hours, and skills. Our office staff wrote up a card detailing these needs and how to sign up, then posted it on a bulletin board, circulated it to the community service club leader, and sometimes announced it during daily announcements. Parent liaisons also sent eMail messages to students about upcoming volunteer opportunities.

Now: All the community organizations and charities connected with our school are already signed up in x2VOL and can enter their specific needs: a description of the work and special instructions such as minimum age, time, number of students needed, and location. We still receive occasional requests via phone or eMail, but when those arrive, we walk the organization through registration with x2VOL.

Confirming hours after service

Before: Students would fill out a form with the date, hours given, and comments about their service. After it was signed by the organizational representative, the student turned this form into the school coordinator. Starting in April of every year, our staff and parent liaisons verified hours by calling or eMailing every organization. These paper records were kept for one year in case a student needed a copy of his or her records at a later date.

Now: Upon completing their hours, students log in to x2VOL with their mobile app or go to the online system, where they record their hours and write reflections about their service. The community service organization verifies student work individually or in batches. Students no longer need to bring in papers to be signed by monitors; they just submit their hours and reflections online, and the organization verifies the work in x2VOL. Our school coordinator then can approve service in batches or by individual.

Obtaining reports

Before: Students needing a report for college or scholarship applications contacted the school coordinator and requested one. The school coordinator collated hours by hand from the student’s forms, which were stored in a binder. Until this year, we only stored records for one year. After that, students were responsible for having their own official reports at home for any future needs or if they lost the information completely.

Now: Students don’t have to ask our staff for a report. They can generate their own report showing verified hours with details about type of work, charity name, and reflections. Administrators also can run any report they need to analyze service trends or to run cumulative reports for recognizing students at year end or for mid-semester motivation.

Here are 10 tips that I feel can make a community service program operate smoothly in a high school:

  1. Students are digital natives, so the required tasks to participate in community service must reflect how they get things done with mobile tools, social media, and other technologies.
  2. Use technology designed to manage community service, rather than trying to morph a spreadsheet or relational database to fit the needs of such a specialized program.
  3. There should be at least one administrator or staff member as champion at the school, who reaches out to the community, builds relationships, and keeps students motivated.
  4. Show students how important community service is in college and scholarship applications by referring to other students’ successes. Give examples of how community service gives skills that students can use in future jobs.
  5. A school administrator is the best person to make first contact with an outside organization and get them registered into the management system. Once the relationship is established with the organization, a parent volunteer can take over as the contact—but that first official contact is critical.
  6. Invest in training teachers, volunteer parents, and the community organization representatives. Students don’t need training. Students will adopt a new program faster than teachers and administrators, so plan accordingly.
  7. Use every available source to promote volunteer opportunities and the community service program in general.
  8. Offer incentives to participate. We give white honor cords to students who complete 60 hours during their senior year, and a plaque for students who meet their service hour requirements all four years of high school.
  9. Be flexible, and consider all constructive input from students, mentors, organizations, and school staff during the transition process. Don’t be discouraged by bumps in the road while going to a paperless system.
  10. Use parent volunteers. Now that our program has gone through a full year, I am stepping back to let parent volunteers be more involved with the x2VOL program itself. I’ll now spend my time expanding our partnerships with businesses and community groups.

Final thoughts

When we shifted to x2VOL, our students immediately understood that our administration took community service seriously, because we adopted a system reflecting our students’ digital world. Bulletin boards are passé, but mobile apps are cool. Bringing community service into the 21st century allows me to get more involved in my students’ personal lives, their college and career choices, even their day-to-day choices about extracurricular activities. I can also work directly with organizations and local businesses, which has led to many terrific new opportunities I never expected.

Rómulo (Rom) Crespo, assistant principal at Morton Ranch High School in the Katy Independent School District, started his education career in 1996 as a teacher and coach. He was awarded the 2012 x2VOL Community Engagement Award from intelliVOL for outstanding leadership in community service, was a semi-finalist for the H-E-B Excellence in Education Award, and was nominated for the Texas Association of Secondary School Principals Outstanding Secondary Assistant Principal Award in 2005-06 and 2009-10. He is currently pursuing his Doctorate in Educational Leadership at the University of Houston-Clear Lake.

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