School community service

School community service (its acronym: SCS) is an organised individual or collective assistance activity free of financial interests, promoting both the interests of the local community and the personal development of secondary school students. It is an educational tool based on experiential education that achieves its goal with the help of learning through experience and project methodology by way of the logic of preparation – activity – processing. It may be regarded as a starting point, a first step (an anteroom) in the road towards becoming true volunteers and may trigger further volunteer activities. Its goals have a lot in common with volunteering (solidarity, sense of responsibility and of being of use), enhanced by an educational objective. In addition to doing something for the community, students also learn something in the meantime: cooperation, conflict management, empathy, creative thinking, project planning and responsibility. School community service offers an excellent opportunity for all cultural institutions for the involvement of students in their activities through cooperation with the field of public education. The aim is that students should develop in terms of personal social, civic, aesthetic and artistic awareness and self-expression capability. The community service is, however, not “only” in the interest of the society as a whole and it serves not “only” the development and vocational orientation of the student but it is also essentially in the interest of the cultural segment. This is said because high quality cooperation naturally helps finding new school partners, it improves the dialogue with teachers and, eventually, it addresses students with deeper knowledge of the cultural traditions of their environment, students who attend the institutions of their environment. It also ensures their engagement and commitment. Properly well-prepared community service enables both the students and the adequately open receiving institution to develop and improve. Its participation is rewarded by gaining an innovative attitude and techniques, a capability to renew itself, and by its reconsideration of institutional structures and tasks from new perspectives.

Its motivation differs from that of voluntary activities because every single full-time secondary school student must complete 50 hours of community service as a prerequisite for the secondary school leaving examination. Practical realisation of the educational objectives of community service (12 principles) may help students (through preparation and reflection) to find their own personal motives in carrying out the activities. In terms of its objectives it may be an excellent terrain for the cultural segment.

Community service is a special marginal zone of volunteering. It differs from volunteering in that it is completed by full time secondary students attending educational institutions providing secondary school leaving examination certificates not on their own accord but as a precondition for the examination. In other aspects however, its basic principles and objectives are the same as those of volunteering, with age-related characteristics taken into account. School community service may be a terrain for the achievement of socialisation. The activities may take place only in the following 8 sectors: health; social and charity; education; culture and community; environmental protection and nature conservation; disaster management; activities relating to pre-school children, children and students with special educational need; sports and recreational relating to elderly people; crime and accident prevention at organisations established for the performance of certain police activities. Another rule is that non-profit organisations are not permitted to employ students for performing social community service. The community service is aimed at achieving both social utility and educational objectives: its aim is to help students become more socially sensitive and become volunteers later, as conscious citizens. This activity may therefore play a key role in vocational orientation, personality development, social sensitisation and community building, in a town or village, at a school or at the recipient organisation.

The practical implementation of the school community service may well be based on experience gained from volunteer management (see the above-mentioned guide on volunteering). At the same time, community service should be distinguished from voluntary activities per se. The key consideration in this is that students’ age specific characteristics must be taken into account. They must be provided with assistance and responsibility should be gradually conferred on them as they perform their tasks. Emphasis must be laid on ensuring that they are motivated and are provided with opportunities for learning, while participating in service-type tasks that do not require technical/professional skills. Care must be taken to ensure that as students learn about the functioning of the institution, by their presence they support primarily the activities of the institution’s target group. Students should be involved in this kind of activity at least in pairs. Their presence is based on contact/communication with the school (the sending institution), for example under a cooperation agreement. The administration of community service requires the keeping of a simple attendance sheet on the part of the cultural institution, which is necessary for ensuring the transparency of their employment from the aspect of labour regulations as well. The majority of the administrative tasks relating to the organisation of school community service are taken care of primarily by the school. The cultural institution is expected to certify the completion of the service in the relevant document (community service log).

It is key that students be involved not primarily in campaign-like activities and that adequate emphasis is laid on developing personal contacts. It is also important that students realise that their activity is aimed at providing assistance and that it has social and cultural values. Such awareness raising should take place during their preparation for community service and at the closure and ex-post appraisal of their assignment. All activities should be performed under the supervision and technical/professional management of a mentor or a coordinator in the cultural area as well; students can thus participate primarily in activities managed or coordinated by someone taking care of their preparation for the tasks, a helper, i.e. a professional. Their activity may only supplement and support but not substitute the work of professionals working at the institutions.

The document “Spreading school community service in cultural institutions” („Az iskolai közösségi szolgálat elterjesztése a kulturális intézményekben”) provides recommended scenarios, templates and suggestions concerning activities, as a detailed guide to the organisation of school community service at cultural institutions.

Suggested SCS activities:

Community service may be performed at cultural institutions in a variety of arrangements. Of the 50 hours some 5 hours should be devoted to preparation, another 5 to closing the activity – preparation and closure may be shorter, depending on the activity concerned, in which case the time spent performing the activity may be longer.

Items may be added to the following list – its purpose is to give the reader an idea of the types of activities that may be performed in the context of community service. Some of the elements in the list are more important than others, and the list may be extended by adding more activities.

Ideas for in-house activities:

  • Assistance in implementing organised events for the audience: e.g. participation in shaping, preparing, organising and staging the programme, participation in the organisation and implementation of programmes such as the Museums’ Night, Cultural Centres Day and Night, National Library Days etc.
  • Participation in week-end programmes, hobby clubs, summer camps
  • Participation in play activities, preparing and managing such play activities and games
  • Customer service, information desk, reception of visitors and providing them with information, escorting visitors at the premises, dissemination of communication materials
  • Providing assistance for visitors in operating technical facilities (e.g. computers, animations, education programs, contribution to the implementation of large organised events)
  • Participation in exhibition guide activity, accompanying groups of visitors; contribution to guide activities in Hungarian and foreign languages, guiding groups of children, students, elderly or people with disabilities
  • Participation in the preparation and staging of exhibition opening ceremonies: helping visitors find their way, providing information, participation in cultural programs
  • Participation in the implementation and moderation of activities for special needs children (children with disabilities, children with special education needs)
  • Participation in tasks aimed at preserving traditions
  • Contribution to the interpretation of an exhibition (as exhibition guides clad in costumes, participation in live interpretation activities, exhibition guides playing musical instruments, guiding visitors along the exhibition while involving them in games, inviting visitors to the museum invoking the era concerned, raising attention to promote museum programmes).
  • Participation in knowledge transfer: (participation in the production and use of demonstration tools, participation in museum education programmes)
  • Preparation of and participation in the implementation of handicrafts programmes
  • Performance during community occasions and activities (prosaic or musical performance to add colour to the programme, helping children or elderly in moving around), extraordinary performance opportunities in the cultural institution’s environment
  • Participation in the institution’s external communication, communication with schools, offering student programmes, operative organisation tasks; helping visitors and other interested people in finding their way around
  • Helping groups of pensioners, participation in the organisation of joint programme, in accompanying those requiring assistance, creating physical and infocommunication accessibility at cultural institutions (e.g. the Budapest Cultural Centre “Click on it, grandma! ©” program adaptations).
  • Performance of assistance type activities in receiving and accompanying special-needs groups
  • Contribution to simple tasks of supervising children, in children’s play-houses and in children’s activities

Suggested activities in the environment of the institution, in up to 10% of the SCS time:

  • Outdoor area maintenance activities in the institution’s park and surroundings (raking leaves, removing weeds, cleaning protected rock faces, composting, trimming hedges together with others (e.g. primary school student groups))
  • Tending to the institution’s historic garden (making seed collections, participation in tidying up the area, in producing information boards etc.)
  • Participation in the upkeep of historic buildings of folk architecture (e.g. practising traditional building techniques (mud cladding, painting, whitewashing) in cooperation with others)
  • Helping with tending to livestock (giving food and water to animals, helping with grooming etc.)
  • Participation in the maintenance of/tending to historical monuments and graves belonging to the institution.
  • Appearance, handing out flyers, organised events staged by the institution at external locations.

Good practices in culture:

  • Kiskunlacházi Angyalos Ház: Film, Good practice students report
  • Playing music together with mentally handicapped people – Béri Balogh Ádám Secondary Grammar School, Tamási:
  • Museum service – Herman Ottó Museum, Miskolc
  • Preserving traditions, organisation of the gathering of Jasz people from all over the world (Jász Világtalálkozó) – SZIE Practical Training Sports Primary School and Secondary Grammar School, Jászberény
  • Summer day-care programme, tutoring in school subjects, local history document recording
  • Élettér Közösség- és Településfejlesztő Egyesület (a community and municipal development association)
  • Report with Lujza Varga – volunteer coordination of the Hungarian National Museum


This article based on the following document:

Socialized Operation of Cultural Institutions : A methodological guide to community-based operation