The number of high school students participating in service learning has risen dramatically since the mid-1980s, but the percentage of school districts requiring participation has remained generally stable, according to the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse. In 1984, about 81,000 high school students were involved in service that was tied to the curriculum, and about 13 percent of school districts had service learning as a requirement.

In 1997, more than 3 million students were involved, but only 16 percent to 18 percent of school districts required it.

Here’s what is happening in three urban districts.

PHILADELPHIA The School Board last year voted to require students to do “citizenship” projects by the end of 4th, 8th and 12th grades. Beginning in June 2002, the projects will be required for promotion to 5th and 9th grades and graduation from high school. The district also has hired 22 coordinators to deliver and coordinate teacher training.

MILWAUKEE Two years ago, the School Board approved a high school graduation requirement for “community membership,” says Paco Martorell, who coordinates school-community services. “But it was not clear exactly what that meant.” As a result, the mandate is not being enforced. This month, a new proposal would make service learning one component of a social studies portfolio that students would have to present to graduate, he says.

DADE COUNTY (MIAMI), FLA. The district requires all high school students to do at least one project during non-school hours that benefits the community. Projects must be pre-approved by a teacher in the Social Studies Department, which is responsible for ensuring that students fulfill the requirement. Students must turn in a form documenting what they did and write an essay analyzing the experience.