Woodlawn Cemetery program teaches students leadership skills

Students from two local middle schools spent the day exploring Woodlawn Cemetery alongside their teachers and their mentor, retired NHL All-Star player, Ron Duguay.

Students from M.S. 371 Urban Institute of Mathematics and P.S./M.S. 194 met on Wednesday, November 13 outside one of the cemetery’s many mausoleums where a bus trolley would take them on a trip to visit the monuments and sites around Woodlawn.

Duguay for the past year and a half has been coming to Woodlawn Cemetery with different schools in the area in partnership with the Woodlawn Student Leadership and Legacy program to promote leadership skills and inspire the children to create their own legacies.

According to Duguay, he was approached by a colleague of his at a hockey event and was asked if he would be interested in the mentorship program.

With prior experience of working with inner city youth and raising five kids himself, he saw it as a no-brainer.

Duguay said while working with charities and going to gala events, people are always speaking on the subject of legacy. After awhile, he started to ask himself, “what is my legacy?” and how he could tie it in with the community.

The program at Woodlawn began in 2017 with one local school and since then has grown to include more then 40 area schools.

The three month program incorporates the meaning of leadership and legacy by having the students research some of the famous individuals buried in Woodlawn while exploring one of NYC’s largest cemeteries.

“The program uses Woodlawn to learn from the past,” Duguay said.

Woodlawn is home to some serious history makers such as Madam C.J. Walker, Fiorello LaGuardia, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Celia Cruz to name a few.

The hopes of the program are to inspire the children by learning about these formidable history makers and encouraging students to be history makers themselves.

Students who take part in the program not only see to understand the meaning of legacy through the departed laid to rest here, but they experience Woodlawn Cemetery as the historical landmark and arboretum it truly is.

Jordan Fernandez, an educational coordinator at Woodlawn noted there are over 145 different species of trees in Woodlawn, more than the New York Botanical Garden displays. Fernandez also expanded on how the program impacts child to see the cemetery in a brighter light.

He added he likes to show the children that whatever they have done so far in their life can change and building a legacy is never ending throughout your life.

Fernandez said he finds what’s most important about the program is showing the children what leadership skills look like and steering them towards those qualities.

According to Duguay, the program has had a grand effect on the students. “The teachers tell me kids who were so shy are more talkative now, for instance, running into a teacher or principal, they will say hi which seems small, but it’s big for some of these kids,” Duguay said.

Duguay said his primary goal with the program is to continue to inspire and encourage the future of America.

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