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How One Hundred Percent of Kids In This After School Program Always Graduate — For 15 Years Straight

6 min read

The hours between 3 and 6 p.m. on a school day for a student are analogous to putting thousands of dollars in the hand of a young child. How he or she spends it will greatly affect the rest of their life.

Research shows that the unstructured window between 3 and 6 p.m. — after school hours and before working parents return home — are peak hours for juvenile crime and youthful experimentation with drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, and sex (After School in America Factsheet).

In communities across the United States, 11.3 million children are without supervision between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m, according to the 2014 research report America After 3 P.M. The report states that 1 in 5 children do not have someone to care for them after school.

Despite the consistent increase in after-school programs since 2004, federal funding for after-school programs has remained relatively flat and tenuous. In 2009, the government allocated $1.13 billion to after school programs. In 2014, it rose 2% to $1.15 billion. In 2018, the budget agreement was set at $1.21 billion but was recently threatened due to lack of evidence of the value of such programs.

Nevertheless, the public demand for after school programs has remained high, and while federal funding might fall short, social entrepreneurs are taking action to fill the need.

One such social entrepreneur is Amanda Kraus, who founded a competitive rowing and academic success program for students from underserved communities throughout New York City called Row New York.

In college, Kraus was captain of the women’s crew team at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, leading her team to a division championship, and then earning a master’s degree in education from Harvard University.

“Crew fosters teamwork, determination, and focus,” said Kraus. “As a rower myself, I saw firsthand what a tremendous impact rowing can have on an individual, and I started Row New York to provide students from all backgrounds with an opportunity to experience these transformative benefits, both in and out of the boat.”

Kraus’s inspiration for Row New York came from an unforgettable moment during one of her first jobs after graduating from college.

As a coach at Girls Row Boston, a program aimed to make rowing accessible to girls from Boston’s under-resourced communities, she worked with a group of 15 high school girls and taught them how to row and race. After months of rigorous physical training, her group of girls outperformed four other teams and won the Mother’s Day Regatta on the Charles River.

Kraus recalled the moment in an interview with New York Sports Connection:

“When my girls came rowing back to the dock, they were sobbing with happiness, and so was I. I was in the Division II national championship boat in college and the bronze medalist boat at the IRA, but those victories did not match this one. This one was about so much more than making a boat go down a course faster than the other boats. This was about a group of girls who had trusted me to push them beyond what they thought they were capable of, on the water, with their schoolwork, and even at home. They had taken these risks and found success together. I wasn’t sure how this was going to turn into a career for me, but I knew we were onto something really powerful here.”

Starting with one borrowed boat and eight high school girls, Kraus launched Row New York in Queens in 2002.

“There wasn’t a day that went by during that first year that I didn’t think I was making a mistake or that I would fail,” she said in an interview.

But the organization grew and the results began to pour in.

  • 100% of Row New York’s seniors graduated from high school
  • 99% of RNY’s seniors go on to college (compared to just 57% enrollment citywide)
  • RNY received the prestigious NY Community Trust Nonprofit Excellence Award in 2014
  • In 2018, 85% of RNY’s high school participants achieved a GPA of 80 or higher

Today, Row New York serves 240 kids per day (70% girls, 30% boys) at three community boathouses six days a week for a full year. Just last month, Kraus announced that Row New York is partnering with a award-winning architect Lord Norman Foster of Foster + Partners to design a new 14,000 square foot boathouse and flagship location for the nonprofit organization on the Harlem River. This will be the fourth boathouse and will allow Row New York to double its number of students served and expand its programming and reach.

“Our kids are with us for a lot of their free time outside of school,” said Kraus. During the week, practice takes place from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. — the heart of peak hours for juvenile crime and unsupervised experimentation after school. Instead of using this free time to explore unhealthy or illegal activities, Row New York kids are learning one of the greatest characteristics required to be successful in school and in life.

One of the greatest characteristics as a significant predictor of success is not IQ

Angela Lee Duckworth, a former seventh grade teacher who went to graduate school to become a psychologist, wanted to research something she observed as a teacher: IQ wasn’t the key to doing well in school and in life.

In her research, she found that in many different life contexts — from the classroom to the boardroom — one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success. “And it wasn’t social intelligence. It wasn’t good looks, physical health, and it wasn’t IQ. It was grit.”

“Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality,” said Duckworth in a Ted Talk.

Rowing does exactly that.

“Rowing is uniquely positioned to be a good vehicle for change,” said Kraus. “It takes a long time to get good at, instills the value of delayed gratification, and rewards tenacity and hard work. Most importantly it teaches teamwork. You can’t be a good rower alone. Our kids learn how to work as a team, how to work with different views on life, how to work with different personalities, you have to put differences aside to be successful together.”

The organization performs an end-of-year survey with students to look at progress. Without fail, said Kraus, when the students respond to how they see themselves differently – a vast majority say, “I never knew how much I was capable of.”

After school programs like Row New York — sports-based youth development that teach grit — can be all the difference between a life filled with self-doubt and troubled behavior and a life filled with self-confidence and teamwork. The classroom educates and tests for IQ, but IQ isn’t always the best indicator for success. It’s in the after school hours of 3 to 6 p.m. that a middle schooler or a high schooler begins to make choices that may have the greatest impact on the rest of their lives.

Row New York’s results speak for themselves. Our country needs more social entrepreneurs like Amanda Kraus to take the risk and give the gift of grit to kids who may never have the opportunity to learn how to persevere.

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