GREENSBORO — As they walked out of exams at Dudley High School on Wednesday, Larry Weeks-Jones wore a camouflage-print visor and Yaliz Pedraza sported a sparkling tiara.
At Sunday’s graduation both the student government leader and birthday girl wore at least one thing in common besides their caps and gowns — a dark green cord symbolizing service.
Twenty-two Dudley graduates received service-learning diplomas, the top service honor from Guilford County Schools’ Character Education Department. Those diplomas signify 250 hours or more of service learning and allow seniors to wear the green cords on their graduation caps.
Another 202 Dudley graduates earned service learning certificates for 100 hours of service.
At Dudley, then, 224 of 326 graduates — more than two-thirds — received service-learning honors to give Dudley more service-learning honorees than any other high school in the district for the third straight year. Dudley has been recognized as both a state and national School of Character.
“A lot of our kids have benefited from someone else’s kindness or compassion or their helping hand,” English teacher Estella Petteway said. “They actually realize that at some point, ‘I’m going to have to do this for someone else,’ and once they do I think they really enjoy it, and they feel like they have accomplished something by helping other people.”
Districtwide, Guilford County Schools’ Class of 2017 performed more than 371,000 hours of community service. That’s more than $8.5 million in economic impact, according to The Independent Sector, a leadership network for nonprofits, foundations and corporations.
Since 2010, Guilford students have performed more than 1.7 million service-learning hours. That’s an economic impact to the community of more than $41 million.
Petteway, counselor Drennan Paylor and teachers Kayte Farkas and Ashley Ekwem-Thorpe make up the service-learning team at Dudley. They said that getting service hours is not as simple as just doing the work. Students must fill out a detailed worksheet that explains what they’ve learned. Not everyone’s service hours get approved. The learning and reflecting part is key.
There are many different ways to serve.
For example, Pedraza has helped out at book fairs and similar events at her younger brother’s elementary school. She also has traveled to South Africa to do a service project there after raising $1,000 for her trip and getting a scholarship for the rest.
Weeks-Jones has done many projects with Dudley’s student government. He got most of his junior year service hours from his nursing fundamentals class at Dudley where he helped feed and talk with nursing home residents, some of whom rarely had visitors. Working with them, he said, felt like the most meaningful of all his volunteer experiences.
“We are trying to make good people, not just good students,” Ekwem-Thorpe, the Dudley teacher, said. “That’s going to take you places that grades can’t.”