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A Model Program for Engaging Kids in Rowing

by Ed Moran, ed@usrowing.org | Apr 04, 2014
Seattle has always been a city with a rich rowing tradition. There are boat clubs and rowing programs available for every age group and skill level. It’s the city where George Pocock pioneered boat building and where the Pocock Rowing Center was founded.
Seattle has always been a city with a rich rowing tradition. There are boat clubs and rowing programs available for every age group and skill level. It’s the city where George Pocock pioneered boat building and where the Pocock Rowing Center was founded.

Despite all of that, the people at the George Pocock Rowing Foundation believed that there were many kids who didn’t have a chance to participate in the sport for several reasons, including barriers of culture, economics and access to the sport.

So they launched the Row to the Future youth development initiative in 2010 and then partnered with the Seattle’s public schools to bring indoor rowing to the city’s middle school system. They made it a part of the school’s physical education curriculum and called it Erg Ed.

“We feel very passionate about removing barriers to participation in rowing,” said Karla Landis, Director of Outreach for the George Pocock Rowing Foundation. And the results are hard to ignore.

Every year, 10,000 students are introduced to rowing in Seattle’s middle schools and in a survey conducted by the GPRF, 31 percent of 2,300 students who participated in Erg Ed said they joined a rowing program, while many others said they participated in indoor competitions. The program is so successful that Seattle and Pocock signed a five-year agreement in 2012 to continue the effort.

The program has not only gotten the attention of the Seattle school district, but the model has been replicated in two other cities, Los Angeles and Chicago.

“The Get Moving with America Rows indoor erg programs facilitated by Row LA and the Chicago Training Center are both modeled after the very successful Erg Ed created by the Pocock Foundation in Seattle,” said Richard Butler, USRowing’s Inclusion Manager. “Erg Ed reaches 10,000 students, and many of those students eventually become accomplished high school rowers. What a game changer for our sport.”

Butler said that USRowing is hoping to replicate the Seattle program in two other cities in 2014 – Detroit and Boston – pending funding.

In Seattle, Row to the Future is expanding Erg Ed. On Monday, March 31, a two-week pilot program began in one high school. It is modeled after the middle school program and intended to set the stage for a rollout this fall to all of Seattle’s high schools.

“This is very cool for us,” said Landis. “Not only are we operating on a huge scale with our middle school kids, but we’re now expanding our program to high school, which gives us another opportunity to give access to kids to this really awesome sport that we love.

“We elected to work with Franklin High School,” she said. “Our district recommended it to us. They have a really strong teaching team and they are very excited to bring the program to their school.”

For two weeks, indoor rowing will be taught at the school and then the results will be studied.

“We’ll pilot the program and then evaluate it over the next two weeks to make modifications, hear feedback from students, hear feedback from teachers, and then we’ll all come back to the drawing board to make a broader plan for bringing indoor rowing education to all of the high schools in our city.”

If Landis and her team at Row to the Future were just introducing indoor rowing to students, that would be one thing, but with the full support of the George Pocock Rowing Foundation, they are going far beyond that.

Recognizing that not all kids have the same level of access to the sport, she said, they are committed to making sure that any child that wants to row gets the opportunity.

“We are working to serve every student in our public school system. Much like many communities, you’ll have some schools that will have greater access and resources than others. But, through our Erg Ed program, our intention is to work with every single school in our city that is a middle school or a high school. The goal is to bring it to every kid,” she said.

“At the same time, we are also prepared to serve the population that we know exists in our community that is going to face barriers. And that may be students of color, or students who are low income or lack transportation,” she said.

“Our eyes are open to the fact that not every person has easy access to participation, especially for rowing. That’s one of the things that kind of puts this on a different level. We’re not going to invite kids to do something that they will never be able to do.”

For more information on Row to the Future, visit http://rowtothefuture.org/about-us/our-story/.

The Youth Initiative of the GPRF | Row to the Future: Why Rowing? from George Pocock Rowing Foundation on Vimeo.

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