Scarsdale High School is a diverse and progressive school that adopts education practices sometimes quite different from what’s offered in surrounding communities. Senior Options, a six-week internship requirement at the end of senior year for SHS students, is one such program in Scarsdale’s school system.

SHS Senior Options students are required to participate in an internship for six weeks, starting at the beginning of May. The rules are strict but few — work 30 hours, at least five days a week, at a place of your choosing (so long as it’s not connected to your family), and never exchange cash with anyone at your workplace.

The program can be time consuming and schedule reorienting. Seniors take final exams at the end of April, usually about two weeks after returning from spring break. Then, as those 12th-graders leave for their internships, 11th-graders who were in the classes, such as physics or a foreign language, with the12th-graders, might be left with just two or three peers in their courses.

A further challenge is that seniors need to scramble to find an internship a month before Senior Options season begins, turning their “senior slump” third quarter into a mad dash for a mentor. “By the Tuesday before the deadline, I didn’t have an internship arranged, so I had to really rush to get a job,” said SHS senior Sally Ho.

The program was created in part to keep seniors engaged in learning once they’ve settled on where they’re going to college. “Senior Options is way better than being in school,” said Ho. “They’re not even comparable.”

After getting over the stress of finding a place to work, many seniors relish their internship and, in many cases, the chance to work their dream job.

Kylie McRobie is a senior in SHS who’s known for her activism. Throughout high school, she worked to create communication equipment for nonverbal students, and developed adaptable school equipment for disabled youth. For her Senior Options internship, she’s working with Mindy Scheier, the founder and president of Runway for Dreams, to create a prom dress for a quadriplegic student. “I’m making two prom dresses. One for myself, and one for this girl named Victoria,” McRobie said.

When asked why she chose to work at Runway for Dreams, Kylie told the story of “when everyone was getting their prom dresses, I was having a hard time finding mine. I went online, in stores, but I couldn’t find anything I liked. Then I realized that, as an able-bodied person, I have so many options, while a disabled person might not.”

“There are multiple things you have to consider when designing a dress for a differently-abled person,” McRobie said. “She uses a wheelchair, so you don’t want the fabric to be bunched up while she’s sitting down. You need to use breathable fabric. Her body proportions are also different, so you need to consider that too.”

When Kylie started her internship, she didn’t really know how to sew. “There were lots of things I didn’t realize went into dressmaking ... I hadn’t sewn in a long time, so [my mentor] … decided that I would make my [prom] dress first … When I went to prom, I got a lot of compliments on my dress, but on the inside it was still a work in progress. There were loose seams and bobby pins holding it together.” If it weren’t for her Senior Options internship, Kylie would have never renewed her sewing skills.

Ho is a senior in SHS who is doing her Senior Options internship at the Global Partnerships Forum, a nonprofit focused on encouraging companies to support the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Former UN worker Amir Dossal, who worked there for 30 years, runs the GPF. “He still works with the UN, and we do a variety of things to help him,” Ho said. “We help him answer emails, draft letters. I’m helping him redesign [the GPF’s] website.”

For Ho, the best part of Senior Options is “having visual work. For example, I helped draft [an] invitation to a UN ambassador for an event. Two weeks later, I see [that person] at the event. What I’m doing actually leads to events occurring. The website [I’m redesigning] will be useful for someone deciding to support an initiative.”

Meanwhile, Maddy McDonald is working a little closer to home. McDonald is interning with Michelle Foligno, an SHS art teacher. Her internship is mainly centered around learning how to use a torch to create stained glass. “I’m mostly helping Ms. Foligno teach students how to use torches, and how to safely put things in the kiln. We’re also trying to integrate glasswork into other classes, like architecture.”

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Glasswork created by Maddy McDonald working with art teacher Michelle Foligno.

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Glasswork created by Maddy McDonald working with art teacher Michelle Foligno.

McDonald said she has learned much about how teachers live their lives outside of class. “Teachers have their own projects, they have groups with other teachers. … A year ago, I was an art student, but now I’m doing what my art teacher does.”

Senior Options benefits McDonald because it “gives me the opportunity to pursue something that I normally wouldn’t be able… I’m working in a place I’m familiar with, but I also get to see what a teacher does.”

Sara Hezi is doing her Senior Options at the Hudson River Museum Planetarium. For the most part, she helps with basic upkeep of the planetarium. She also cleans the baubles that fly across the ceiling, and helps construct little tracks that demonstrate the orbits satellites make around the moon. “I know which buttons to press to take people through the solar system, to take them around the universe. I also know how to code new buttons in case I want to do something new.”

For McDonald, Senior Options gave her the opportunity to try something familiar but from a new angle. For Hezi, it’s trying something she’s always had an interest in. “I’m going to college for aerospace engineering … Doing something related to my field cemented [the idea] that this is something I want to do.”

Harry Liu didn’t stay close to home, and chose to do something he might never have the chance to do again. Liu did his internship at Acadia National Park, in central Maine. Acadia National Park is a 49,075-acre park on Mount Desert Island. In Liu’s words, “Acadia is super beautiful … there are these huge mountains on the island that formed as glaciers receded. There’s an amazing view of the ocean from the top of the mountain. It’s a spectacular phenomenon.”

Cadillac Mountain is the tallest mountain on the island, and is also the tallest mountain on the eastern coastline of the U.S. “Not only is it forest … you can hike along exposed granite,” Liu said. “It’s a really diverse park considering how small it is … It’s also really close to home, relative to parks like Glacier [National Park].

Senior Options Acadia taken by ed pontbriand.jpg

Harry Liu chops down a tree with a Katanaboy.

Liu had many different responsibilities, some quite different from the typical high school senior. “There were two parts of my project. The first was helping the ‘Friends of Acadia’ [volunteer organization], by helping locals with trails [and] setting gravel on the trail,” he said.

He said part of his responsibilities was harder labor — clearing trees, moving large rocks and laying new trails. “They used a chainsaw to cut down large trees, but I was given a Katanaboy,” he said. A Katanaboy is essentially an extremely long folding saw, similar-looking to a sword, strong enough to cut down trees without being as dangerous as a chainsaw.

The park is an eight-hour drive from Scarsdale, so Liu lived on site at the park headquarters in government-supervised housing with a roommate. “I woke up, got ready, and walked the hundred feet to the trail shop,” he said.

Senior Options Acadia taken by Harry Liu 2.jpg

Harry Liu spotted a porcupine.

Since freshman year, Liu was confident that he wanted to work at a national park. “I initially wanted to work at Glacier National Park, but it’s far away, and kind of in the middle of nowhere,” Liu said. “In 2012, my family went to Acadia, but I was too young to really absorb the harder trails.”

Liu did a lot of hiking with his family in his youth, including a rim-to-rim hike from one end of the Grand Canyon to the other. “I was hiking since I was born,” he said, explaining how his parents carried him in an infant backpack to a backcountry hideaway.

Every senior had a different reason for why he or she was drawn to a particular internship. Hezi chose to work in the planetarium because she always wanted to work in space science, and plans to continue in the future. Liu chose to work in a national park as a one-time experience. “For me,” Liu said, “I wanted to do something for Senior Options I’d never want to do again. [Working in a national park] doesn’t pay enough to support a lifestyle.”

Senior Options allows SHS 12th-graders to develop new traits through their work, just as much as it teaches them different lessons. While Ho had trouble finding an internship before the deadline, Hezi found scrambling to “find my internship was helpful, because I learned how to email people, giving them reasons why I’d be helpful …  I’ve learned a lot, not just about astronomy. I’ve learned more about how to interact with people.”

For McRobie, Senior Options was a major learning experience. “School can only do so much for you. Many students think they aren’t learning something helpful [in school] … Doing an internship helps you gain work experience. It really just gives you the gift of time. We all say we’re going to do things, but having Senior Options gives you the opportunity to do that thing you’ve always wanted to do.”

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