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Mayor’s service plan includes a new requirement for schools

Mayor Bloomberg today issued a new requirement for public school principals: Add instruction about community service to their schools’ packed programs of reading, writing, and math.

The directive came during an upbeat event today where Bloomberg unveiled a new citywide volunteerism initiative. The event was broadcast on MTV.com, the Web site of the cable network that is trying to remake its image for the civic-minded Obama generation, and included a brief speech by Caroline Kennedy. Under Bloomberg’s plan, every public school principal must integrate service into his or her school’s curriculum.

“We’re going to be asking every city principal to create a service plan — no exceptions,” Bloomberg said at the event, held at the Armory Track and Field Foundation in Washington Heights. “Because from now on, civic service and volunteering will be a core part of what goes on in every single school.”

Bloomberg’s NYC Service initiative is well-timed: Tomorrow, President Obama is set to sign the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which will increase membership in AmeriCorps, a national service program, from 75,000 to 250,000 over five years and encourage volunteerism in other ways.

Several big names showed up at the event. Caroline Kennedy, the niece of ailing Sen. Ted Kennedy and a prominent backer of the city schools, made an unannounced appearance to read an encouraging note from her uncle. Silda Wall, wife of former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, also made a brief speech about her non-profit organization, Children for Children, which is partnering with the city to provide AmeriCorps volunteers to help integrate service into schools’ curriculums. And MTV host Sway Calloway emceed the event, cracking jokes with the mayor as the show streamed live on the network’s Web site. 

Bloomberg said he wants to let loose “an army of volunteers” across the city. The initiative aims to make finding volunteering opportunities easier for New Yorkers as well as provide nonprofit organizations with resources to train more volunteers. At one point during his speech, an image of Uncle Sam flashed onto the large screen behind the mayor. Bloomberg’s face was superimposed on Uncle Sam’s head, and the words “I Want You for NYC Service,” ran across the bottom.

Bloomberg said part of the purpose of mandating volunteering in schools is to “engrain service into the DNA of young New Yorkers today, thus developing tomorrow’s ranks for a new volunteer army.”

At a question and answer session after his announcement, Bloomberg clarified the service requirement: Schools can meet the requirement by adding volunteerism to the curriculum or by actually engaging in service activities as a school. The NYC Service initiative will not provide funds to help schools meet the service requirement, he said.

“The Department of Education doesn’t have any more money, we know that,” Bloomberg said. “This city’s just going to have to learn to find ways to do more with less.”

He added that unlike in Chicago and the state of Maryland, where volunteering is a graduation requirement for students, his plan leaves room for flexibility, since individual principals will decide how they want to incorporate service.

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein said he was ready to teach service to New York’s students.

“I can’t wait to start teaching my kids, ‘You make a life out of what you give,'” Klein said, quoting Winston Churchill.

A few other parts of the initiative will affect public school students. The DOE will launch a new program called Middle School Mentors, which will direct volunteers to the city’s highest-need middle schools. The Summer Youth Employment Program, which provides jobs for thousands of teens each summer, will now participate in service projects, and all internships with city agencies will also require volunteering.