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This article is written for “Blog for International Women’s Day,” hosted by Gender Across Borders and CARE. This year’s theme is “Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures.” Today, March 8, blogs and websites worldwide are writing about how we, as a culture and as members of the global community, can involve, educate, and inspire girls in a positive way, while also highlighting organizations, people and, groups that work to inspire a positive future and impact the minds and aspirations of girls.
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Every year in urban America, girls slip through the cracks of the educational system. Many girls from inner-city communities never graduate high school, let alone attend college. Thousands, if not millions of American girls never have the experience of participating in team athletics, or could even dream of participating in collegiate sports.
In the last decade, a handful of programs have cropped up around the country with the mission to teach inner city girls the sport of rowing, provide them with individualized academic support, and help them graduate high school and get into college.
First Row, run by the local Three Rivers Rowing Association in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is one of these programs. The mission of First Row is to “engage Pittsburgh’s urban high school girls in a community rowing program that cultivates self-discipline, confidence, team-building, and improved health.” Eighty-percent of First Row’s girls are at-risk girls from five different public and charter schools in the Pittsburgh area.
Joy Nix, Director of Outreach for TRRA and coach of the First Row rowing program, says that her program is especially important for urban youth because it teaches them skills that can be applied not only to rowing, but any of life’s circumstances. It is their goal to teach girls how to handle difficult situations, work as a team, find personal motivation, encourage others to succeed, and build self-esteem.
First Row girls are achieving on and off the water. Just last weekend the team competed in an indoor competition where every girl set a new personal record. As of 2011, 100% of First Row’s graduating senior class went on to attend community college or a four-year university. Many times, these girls are first-generation college students. A similar program, Row New York, which was founded in 2002, now sees more than 300 urban New York City girls go through their program every year. 100% of the Row New York graduates have gone on to college, and many of them even earned college scholarships for both rowing and academics. (www.rownewyork.org)
Due to Title IX, many universities offer NCAA scholarships for women’s rowing. Row New York and other programs capitalize on this unique opportunity by providing their girls with training in rowing and increasing their chances of college acceptance. The rowing experience these girls obtain as well as the academic support they receive can position them as prime candidates for collegiate rowing scholarships.
Nix said she has seen many girls in the First Row program overcome anger management, violence and other behavioral problems as well. These programs take the unique sport of rowing, and teach girls to apply the teamwork, confidence and tenacity they learn from the sport to every situation in life. And they are changing the course of girls’ lives.
Here are a few responses from actual First Row participants. According to these girls, First Row:
“…showed me how to work harder and stay strong.”
“… helped me stay focused and determined through the school year and made some really hard times easier for me.”
“…[taught me that] even if something is hard, you shouldn’t quit because, in the end, it will be beneficial.”
“…helped me talk about things instead of getting angry and being violent.”
“… could help me understand how to work with others without having arguments or problems. It works for projects, groups, clubs…etc.”
“…helped me change my lifestyle.”
“…[taught me] the importance of hard work and being consistent.”
Girls in urban and inner city America deserve the same chance at life as girls in upper-class school districts. Programs like First Row and Row New York are investing in the lives of young girls, and through mentoring in academics and training in sports, teaching them to be successful in every area of life.
Visit the First Row Website
Like Row New York on Facebook