The first day Jared Pitcan was assigned to give tours of the Hudson River Museum’s exhibit on the art of video games, he realized there was more to it than just knowing the information.
He and his friend in the museum’s junior docent program, Yashu Kumar — both 15 and students at Yonkers High School — had been trained. They knew what to say. They just didn’t know how to say it.
“We were a mess,” Pitcan said.
“I think it was like the fifth time when we got the perfect tour,” Kumar added.
The teenagers are two of about 65 high school students in the junior docent program. The students, freshmen to seniors, come from nearly all Yonkers high schools and take on the role of guide and educator for the families and groups that visit the Warburton Avenue museum. The training and exposure to art, ecology and history become a learning experience. They also pick up confidence and presentation skills.
“They really are the face of the museum,” said Jennifer Patton, the museum’s director of education.
And the program has bragging rights: All students who have completed it over the 20 years it’s been around have gone on to college.
Emanual Phillip, 18, who graduated from Yonkers High and will go to Stony Brook University this year, said he’s been motivated by seeing so many of his friends preparing to head off to higher education.
“I’m not trying to get left behind,” he said.
Junior docents start freshman or sophomore year and spend one year as a volunteer. After that, they are paid minimum wage for their work and some go on to jobs at the museum. In addition to weekly training and at least once monthly shifts giving tours or leading art projects for visitors, docents are provided college-prep workshops and taken on field trips to college campuses.
Program leaders also keep track of students’ attendance and, if there’s a problem, they dig until they find out how to help, Patton said.
Several of the docents will be the first in their families to go to college, and they, in particular, benefit from the help of the adults and older students.
“You can learn from people who are leaving the program,” said Daniel Espejel, 15, who will be a sophomore at Lincoln High and expects to be his family’s first college graduate.
He was first hooked on the docent program by the idea he would fill a requirement for volunteer hours and also get paid.
“Throughout the year, I forgot about the money part and got into the exhibitions,” he said.
Guadalupe Campos, 18, graduated from Riverside High and will attend Mercy College this year. She followed her brother into the junior docent program and was hired this summer to coordinate camp visits.
“When I came into the program I was a very shy person,” she said. “I would have never thought I would be the summer camp manager.”