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NYC Rowing Team Preps Kids for College

rowing on the Harlem River

Row New York varisty team practices on the Harlem River. (Photo by Katherine Garrity/WFUV)

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Spring for some of New York City’s high school seniors, means graduating high school and preparing for college. One program uses competitive rowing to change the course for many of the city’s underserved students and help them do just that.
 
In the middle of the Harlem River, Manhattan’s Row New York varsity team preps for the busy spring racing season. They practice five days a week and travel to regattas on weekends, which adds up to over a thousand hours a year.
 
Rowing often conjures a mental picture of wealthy white kids. But that’s not who’s in these boats. Most of these rowers are black and Latino. 80 percent of them qualify for the city’s free or reduced price lunch program and participate for free.
 
Amanda Kraus, the program’s founder and executive director, said her goal’s to give everyone the chance to row. She said rowing still has a long way to go with diversity.
 
“We still show up and races and people still turn and do sort of a double take.” 
 
Kraus said money should not be the only thing getting in the way of taking part in the typically expensive sport. She said Row New York tries to fill any gap keeping a student from participating. Whether that means providing MetroCards to get to practice or new sneakers for workouts.
 
Tom Eichler, Varsity Program Director in Manhattan, said rowing teaches great life lessons, especially for kids who have never been on a team before.
 
“You’re really sort of faced with your own failures a lot of them time and rowing as a sport helps a kid and in particular a high school kid grow.” 
 
Eichler said this “high dosage” program is all about helping kids challenge themselves.
 
Row New York Athletes also attend weekly academic sessions to get help with anything from homework to college applications and career planning. Darise JeanBaptiste is Row New York’s director of Academics and College Readiness. She said she sees students applying what they learn at practice to their schoolwork as well.
 
“I think it is super eye opening it speaks to the power of education it speaks to the power of this program.” 
 
Celia Rodriguez, a high school junior on the team, gets it. She said the program’s helped her realize college is a reality, but she said she knows she still has to work for it. 
 
“I will always be challenged and I can always surpass my comfort zone. I can definitely do more than I think I can do.” 
 
Rodriguez said Row New York’s taught her what it takes to achieve all of her goals. The program’s proven its success by sending 98% of its graduates to college over the past few years, a number well above the city’s 69% average.
 
Bianca Pickering is one of those graduates. She started at Row New York in 10th Grade. Pickering said she found a sense of purpose and dedication that she would have never realized on her own.
 
“Now I have like this never stop notion in my head all the time that I just don’t stop regardless of how difficult things are.” 
 
Pickering’s now finishing her freshman year at Hofstra University. She’s studying sociology and civic engagement.