On Monday, June 3rd, the Briarcliff Manor Board of Education approved their 2013-2014 budget to include slots for Briarcliff students to attend the Walkabout Program. Many thanks from Walkabout alumni and next year’s cohort of students.
As many who know me well are aware, I had the unique opportunity to attend the Walkabout Program during my Senior year in high school. With two week-long backpacking trips, a four week service learning project (which the students are charged with setting up themselves), a nine week career internship (again, set up by students themselves) and ten weeks of full time academics, the Walkabout Program is unlike any other experience available in a traditional high school.
The program, which started 35 years ago, has changed the lives of hundreds of young people. Where else could a 17 year old be trusted to go to a work site four days a week on their own and attend academic classes on Mondays? Where else could a teenager be thrust into the wilderness with only a pack on their back for a week in an Outward Bound style adventure that was considered “gym class?”
By the time I graduated high school, I had a resumé, had refined my interviewing skills through videotaped practice, made dozens of phone calls to companies for an internship only to be rejected and had survived two weeks in the wilderness alongside my classmates. I still managed to take AP English and act as Yearbook Editor in Chief while attending the program. At the end of the year, instead of walking a processional in a cap and gown, we stood up in front of our peers and families and spoke about our experience at Walkabout and how we had grown throughout the year. It was one of the most powerful and meaningful experiences I’ve ever had.
After 20 years of sending students to the Walkabout Program, my alma mater is looking to cut the program, along with other expenses, from the school district budget to meet the 2% property tax cap that New York State has.
As a Philadelphia educator, I am watching increasing budget cuts affect my own city as the District closes 23 schools this Fall, and will be cutting Assistant Principals, Counselors, Librarians, sports, Secretaries, support staff, Music and Art programs, leaving schools with a barebones staff and overstuffed classrooms.
To see budget cuts also affect the program that helped shape me into the person I am today is devastating.
Here is the email I sent to the Briarcliff Manor School District Board of Education, Superintendent, and High School Principal:
Dear esteemed Briarcliff Schools Board members,
I am a Briarcliff High School and Walkabout 21 graduate from the class of 1998. I was a member of the National Honors Society, yearbook Editor-in-Chief and an involved member of Art Club, French Club and Briars and Ivy.
I am currently an educator in Philadelphia with a Master Degree and four certifications. I have been named an emerging leader by two international organizations, ISTE and ASCD, and I was just named the 2013 Outstanding Teacher of the Year by the Pennsylvania Association of Educational Computing and Technology.
During my Junior year I chose to attend the Walkabout Program despite its reputation as a program solely for struggling students. Even my parents were skeptical at first. They very quickly saw, however, the difference that Walkabout made in me as a person and were quick to admit that they had been wrong. I cannot begin to describe how different my life would have been if I had not made that choice.
The Walkabout Program taught me how to carry myself as an adult, how to handle real responsibilities and it built up my self-esteem and confidence in a way that no other experience could. These skills have helped me get to where I am today. Of course, I was lucky to have attended Briarcliff Schools, so these experiences were partnered with an excellent academic education. However, I am confident that Walkabout gave me an extra boost of confidence and real world experience that gave me a distinct advantage over my peers.
The following statements are from the Briarcliff Schools Philosophy Statement on the district website:
“The Briarcliff Schools are committed to the philosophy of helping each child develop into a mature individual who will be a contributing member of society.”
“There are opportunities for students to participate in experiences that promote self-esteem, as well as to have students learn the limits of individual freedom.”
“The Briarcliff Schools provide a comprehensive and responsive educational program that is relevant to the individual needs of students.”
I am not sure how the Briarcliff Manor School District can uphold its decision to cut the 4 slots for students to attend the Walkabout Program when the program provides all of these things and more. Taking this opportunity from Briarcliff HIgh School students is in direct conflict with the district’s educational philosophy.
Please reconsider saving this unique and life-changing opportunity for Briarcliff students and for students around Westchester County. By pulling out of the program, Briarcliff Schools are sending the message to other districts that these kinds of programs don’t matter. Please consider the hundres of lives that have been changed by this program and keep Walkabout a Briarcliff tradition for years to come.
Thank you for your time and consideration,
Mary Beth Hertz
Technology Teacher, Tech Integration Specialist