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Austin sees success with youth rowing program

Friday, July 1, 2022 by Veronica Apodaca

The Austin Rowing Club reported on the success of the STEM to Stern program at the Parks and Recreation Board’s Monday meeting. STEM to Stern, which was brought to the city by the Rowing Club and the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Austin Area, combines athletics and education. After coming to Austin in January 2022 and continuing throughout the spring semester with a positive reception, the program is expected to continue next year.

The rowing club previously partnered with the Boys & Girls Clubs to install rowing machines in its facility and was prepared to collaborate again for STEM to Stern.

“They were a perfect partner because they already had the kids after school, and they have transportation, and transportation is the key to making this program successful,” Rowing Club spokesperson Jim Ruddy told the Austin Monitor.

As the name suggests, the program takes advantage of Austin’s lakes to incorporate STEM concepts into its work with students. In addition to challenges involving designing dams and bridges, students were able to experience how rowing uses the concepts of physics.

“What’s amazing about the sport of rowing is it’s a … real-world illustration of the principles of STEM,” Kevin Reinis, the Rowing Club’s executive director, told the Monitor. “The physical action of pulling in an oar … the angles, the leverage, that power you generate, it’s literally all math, and so the kids can learn about physics and math and then actually apply it themselves personally.”

Rowing has been a positive experience for students who may feel apprehensive about sports.

“We’re trying to target middle-school kids who can row when they may not be very successful in other sports, because it doesn’t require acute hand-eye coordination,” Ruddy said, adding that the sport can “open the door” for people who don’t believe they are very athletic.

Additionally, the program targeted students who otherwise might not have the opportunity to be immersed in these skills.

“(A) lot of them just haven’t been near the water,” Bert Garcia, Austin’s director of STEAM for the Boys & Girls Clubs, told the Monitor. “These kids were predominantly Hispanic and Black, and nationally, those are … the minorities that see (a smaller) amount of children being able to swim, just because traditionally, they haven’t had the same in-school opportunities. So being able to get them on the water … that’s something that’s going to pay off for them their entire life.”

With the success of the program over the past spring semester, both organizations hope to continue it and extend the opportunity to more students. The positive reaction from students gave the organizers confidence it will continue to be an enjoyable experience.

“While some students appeared unsure about the whole experience at first, once they became familiar with the boathouse and comfortable on the water, they looked forward to their weekly visits,” Ruddy said. “When their van driver was indisposed and could not bring them, they let him hear about it the next week. Overall, they learned to work together, to keep focused and to enjoy being outside in nature.”

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