Wondering what it might cost to get your kids to help make the world a better place? Parents willing to fund volunteer work might find promises like these:


“An unforgettable summer! Kayaking! Horseback riding! Service and Surf!”


Over the years, there have been plenty of articles about the price of tagging turtles or monitoring zebras – and how little it will help with college admission. I remember reading about one such trip to Fiji a few years back where a student spent more than $3,295 to work – and enjoyed the infinity pool and view of the ocean.


None of this was what I had in mind when we first started contemplating New York City public high schools a few years back. At the time, I was particularly impressed by schools likeBeacon, where community service is part of the program. In some parts of the U.S., a minimum of 20 hours of service is required for graduation, so the volunteer work is all part of the curriculum. Some city high schools require it, others simply suggest it.



We thought it was the right thing to do. But where to start?


Children who grow up with a religious affiliation through a church or synagogue may have a built- in advantage when it comes to community service. Some learn the benefits of preparing meals for the elderly and the homeless, sleeping overnight in shelters or packaging clothing and care packages off to needy families.


It’s tough to fit any meaningful volunteer experience into a school day that can exceed 12 hours with sports, practices, performances and other activities, not to mention exams, homework and more of the same on weekends.


The only answer was to look at summer programs. I wrote to a few and the colorful brochures started piling up.


“Islands rising out of crystal-clear blue waters. Mountain peaks reaching up to clouds. Crescent-shaped white sand beaches stretching along warm ocean shores,’’ read one


I was ready to book my winter vacation.


We found plenty of opportunities closer to home. The New York City Department of Education has a website that lists community service opportunities --including those in New York City Housing Authority apartments --and there are programs for teens via the 92nd Street Y.


In the end, my kids found their ownprogram – an urban farm founded by New York City public schools students  – and run by a former Beacon teacher in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, an area devastated by Hurricane Katrina.


My older son did a two-week program there last summer with many of his friends, some of whom helped organize the trip. He helped fundraise for it, and came back excited by the work itself and what he had learned.


My youngest is in the program now and we’ll meet him in New Orleans and drive back to New York City. On the way home, instead of crystal-clear waters and white sand beaches, we’ll see some Civil War sites, stop at Roadfoodjoints and spend a day at an old-fashioned countryfair in Mississippi.


All this comes with a price tag– flight to New Orleans, food, rental car and hotels – but that falls in the category of vacation, and not community service.


Insideschools.org would love to hear from parents and students about volunteer experiences. What worked, and what was learned? Are some of the programs in Costa Rica and abroad worth the expense?


Should more high schools require community service as part of the curriculum?