Rowing and a diploma for all
How do you help a city where only 66 per cent of its high schoolers graduate? Ask Amanda Kraus.
More than 12 years ago Kraus, a native New Yorker, was inspired to start a fledging rowing programme in New York City, United States. This innovative programme, Row New York, now boasts a 100 per cent graduation rate among its athletes.
In a sport that is sometimes criticised for being ‘elitist,’ Kraus and her programme have helped to combat this stereotype by bringing rowing to all youth, regardless of where they come from.
“Good rowers have a lot in common with one another, regardless of their backgrounds. They truly enjoy working hard,” Kraus says. Kraus started Row New York in 2002 and the now flourishing programme began with just eight rowers and some worn-out equipment. “We did everything from buying the first broken down old launch off the side of the road to driving seven hours for four old donated ergs,” Kraus says. Over the years Kraus’ vision grew and Row New York now boasts a full-time staff of 20.
The staff work to provide comprehensive support for their athletes. Not only are young students taught to row, they are given tutoring, study hours and guidance counselling for the college application process. Their success is unprecedented. Ninety-eight per cent of Row New York graduates go to college, compared to 69 per cent of New York City high school graduates. Even more impressive, 90 per cent of those who enter college graduate, compared to 53 per cent nationally in the United States.
So what is the key to all this success? “I think the key is dosage,” Kraus says. “You’re not going to change a young person’s life quickly. Our high schoolers are with us six days a week, year round. So they are constantly surrounded by staff who are talking about school work and college and SAT prep … We have high expectations of our kids and that turns into high expectations of themselves.”
Kraus’ other secret to success is the sport itself. “There are lots of sports and activities that can prepare youth for life, but rowing takes the cake in my opinion,” Kraus says. “For young rowers especially, it teaches them about working hard even when it's hard, pushing through discomfort, finding patience to find balance, pushing yourself and realising your limits are much further away than you thought they were. And teamwork.”
What is incredible at Row New York is that the students not only face these challenges in school and in rowing, but that they also face incredible challenges in their daily lives. Kraus says that this unwillingness to back down is what really inspires her.
Kraus, her programme and her athletes should be inspiration to all. They prove that the right combination of sport and academics complement one another, enhancing the student's entire experience and preparing them for the future. While it may be a lot to ask, Kraus says, “I want all of our kids to get good grades this spring, to go fast and be healthy and have fun.”