Sonia Pang interned at an engineering firm where she was responsible for pricing projects estimated at $50 million. Ajee Rennalls wrote a song for a rap group that has received more than 300,000 views on YouTube. Logan Lott developed his passion for film and had the opportunity to make a video for visitors to the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut.
These are just some of the stories from this year’s graduates of Walkabout, a unique, yearlong program for college-bound high school seniors. Walkabout students earn a full-year of academic credit, spend two weeks backpacking as a group to gain confidence and build a sense of community, spend four weeks in a service learning project and complete a 10-week career internship.
Along the way, Walkabout students gain confidence, motivation and direction for the future. Many graduates credit the program, which was founded in 1977, with changing their life. Walkabout has been proven effective by the New York State Education Department and has been named one of the top 40 experientially oriented programs in the United States by the National Institute of Education.
Rennalls, a Pocantico Hills-Briarcliff student, said Walkabout’s unique academic program led him to write music. As a result, he was able to express himself more fully and even ghost-wrote a song for a prominent rap group. But Rennalls, whose best friend was shot and killed at a young age, said the most important thing he took away from Walkabout was the sense of community.
“To have community really meant a lot to me,” he said.
Dawn LaGuardia, who did her community service at Briarcliff Middle School, said she gained “a new respect for teachers and learned to love learning and teaching.” LaGuardia, who described herself as a lackluster student in the past, said Walkabout’s academics “are done in such a different way that you can’t help but be drawn into them.”
Pang, a Chappaqua student, said she gained confidence and maturity as a result of both her internship at an engineering firm where she attended meetings with clients, and her community service project working with special needs students at Seven Bridges Middle School. Her mother, Sherry Pang, said she has always tried to “build a community around Sonia” because she is “not a traditional student who could go to class and be excited about it” and Walkabout was perfect for her.
Blind Brook’s Logan Lott also spoke about lacking motivation in his traditional high school and gaining a sense of purpose and greater responsibility from Walkabout. “I got the chance to do real and important work at the Bruce Museum,” he said, adding that he was also given a great deal of responsibility at his internship at the Jacob Burns Film Center.
“We are so proud of him,” said Hope Lott, Logan’s mother. “He is taking school more seriously because he is really enjoying what he is doing. The field work is great. Walkabout is a great alternative way to learn.”
Alicia Fine, a Hastings-on-Hudson student who will attend Tulane University in the fall, credited her service learning project at Walkabout with helping her gain admission to the prestigious university. “Tulane has a service learning requirement for all of its graduates,” she said. “I’m pretty sure one of the reasons I was admitted was that I understood the value of service learning and spoke so highly about it.”
The graduates all said they benefitted from the program’s two camping trips, which forced them to meet new challenges and work as a team. What’ more, they said, being responsible for finding their own service learning projects helped them a build confidence.
Thirty students graduated from Walkabout this year, ending the year with a presentation about what they had learned and how they had grown. Now in its 35th year, Walkabout is a program of Putnam Northern Westchester Board of Cooperative Educational Services.