Possibly one of the most beloved community service programs on campus, the Joint Educational Program is a service-learning program that more than 2,000 USC students participate in annually.
Students can become Project Read and Math mentors, work in shelters, or work with foster care children.
The most popular division is teaching, where students can participate as teacher assistants or in groups to teach mini-courses.
Unfortunately, JEP’s popularity can probably be attributed to the extra credit handed out to students who teach.
A student enrolled in an anthropology class might get his lowest two quiz scores dropped. A French IV class offers the option to participate in JEP instead of taking a final exam.
And a JEP course probably never filled up as quickly as when CHEM 105bL, second-semester general chemistry, tacked on three percent to the final grade as an incentive. Within the span of five to or six hours, every single spot was filled, according to the JEP coordinator for the class.
But do the ends justify the means?
Many students would probably not participate in JEP were it not for the strong allure of extra credit points.
Admittedly, I signed up for JEP this semester in hopes of buffering my chemistry grade, and I can reasonably assume a good number of students only filled out the application forms for the same reason.
In fact, only 400 students, a measly 20 percent, volunteer without academic compensation, according to the JEP website.
Does offering extra credit pose a “necessary evil,” for the good of community outreach?
After all, JEP is a significant time commitment. And as participants, we deserve some measure of compensation for the many hours spent planning, preparing, teaching and writing reflection responses.
Ideally, we would require no reward for community service and would participate in the spirit of charity and for the sake of personal growth.
Practically, however, JEP requires a large number of students to function. Offering extra credit is a free, uncomplicated form of motivation.
But although JEP is a great way to reach out to the community, and offering extra credit might dramatically increase the popularity of the program, this isn’t necessarily a fair trade-off.
Giving extra credit might appear to be a win-win situation, but it means grades are used merely as leveraging points for philanthropy.
Grades should be a reasonably accurate determination of what we have learned in a class.
It is unlikely teaching K-12 students will actually reinforce knowledge of the subject taught in the class.
Especially for students placed in younger elementary school classrooms, the material covered will be far too basic to provide any meaningful reinforcement of the subject matter in their complementary USC course.
For example, I teach fifth graders general chemistry. Last week we went over the three states of matter. Clearly this cannot be expected to help me in reviewing for my next chemistry midterm.
Why should teaching them what a proton is qualify me for a grade boost in a course like CHEM 105bL?
Currently, it is up to individual professors to decide how to allocate credit for JEP participation. This method allows for more flexibility on the professors’ part but overestimates the validity of this form of academic compensation.
Possible alternative methods of compensation could be in the form of one elective unit per semester or recommendation letters — more reasonably correlated with what we are doing in the classroom.
What we learn in JEP is not the subject we’re teaching, but rather how to teach and interact with kids.
We take more personal gains and reflections about citizenship, community service and possible career paths from the experience than subject matter. That in and of itself is valuable enough to merit our time and effort.
Rebecca Gao is a freshman majoring in global health and biological sciences. Her column, “Trojan Grounds,” runs Mondays.