Hudson River Community Sailing

Hudson River Community Sailing: Inspiring NYC youth through STEM and Sailing

Each year, 150 students from nine public high schools in New York City, each with a unique story, participate in Sail Academy, a four-year youth development program at Hudson River Community Sailing (HRCS). HRCS students learn to sail, build wooden boats, and receive academic credit through an afterschool program that uses STEM curriculum and US Sailing’s Reach initiative.

This is where Dawn Jones and Sam Rosario met a few years ago.

Dawn lives in Canarsie, Brooklyn, and takes the train to school in Manhattan for an hour and a half each way. She lives with her grandparents and mother, who is a patient’s care assistant, and who also goes to school three nights a week. Dawn has been working on learning Yourba, the first language of her mother, who emigrated from Nigeria.

Sam Rosario grew up in the Bronx. By the time he was 10, his mother had passed away and his father left, so he moved in with his grandmother at the public housing development in Manhattan near HRCS on Pier 66.  He says he got into trouble when he was younger and had to switch middle schools, but he tested well and was admitted to NYC Lab, a specialty high school on the west side of Manhattan.

Both Dawn and Sam joined Sail Academy in their freshman year of high school.  Dawn says her mother forced her to get on a boat, and that she was scared the first time she left the dock. Sam jokes that he wanted to be a pirate and figured sailing was his way to that career.

In their first year, Dawn said she and Sam were like cats and dogs—she is effusive but naturally shy; he is thoughtful and outgoing. But together, they learned how to build an anemometer, how buoyancy and water dynamics worked and how to measure and cut wood to build small wooden prams.

After finishing their first year of Sail Academy, Dawn and Sam received academic credit in math and science. Sam realized he loved to sail fast and started racing during the adult Tuesday night series where he became the regular skipper of the student team. Dawn started volunteering with ninth grade students, helping them build the boats she and Sam had made the year before. They became good friends and learned to work together through a leadership-focused internship their first summer.

Since its founding in 2008, HRCS has developed leadership and academic success in underserved New York City youth through sailing education. In 2016, approximately 500 students will participate in HRCS’ proven STEM curriculum, in addition to US Sailing’s Reach initiative programming. The students explore wind and weather patterns, marine debris and ecology while learning to sail.

“US Sailing’s Reach initiative is honored to work with HRCS, because their programming, instructors, and students are one of a kind,” said Jessica Servis, US Sailing Reach Program Manager. “This initiative aims to increase quality of STEM education and inspire future environmental stewards through sailing. Student lives are changed every day through sailing, just like Sam and Dawn, who are welcomed on the waterfront and provided with ongoing support and education, changing their future and their lens of life forever.”

Launched in 2012, US Sailing’s Reach initiative is working to systematically enhance the implementation of this programming in schools and community sailing centers by developing regional networks. HRCS has been selected as a Mid-Atlantic Reach Center, serving as a model and resource for STEM/environmental education. In just over four years, Reach has grown from five programs impacting 250 youth to over 400 programs impacting over 100,000 youth annually. In addition, ninety percent of the students participating in Reach are first time sailors.

“Every student becomes part of a unique and multifaceted community built around a love of sailing,” said Maeve Gately, Development Manager for HRCS. “And few of our students would never have experienced being on the water without HRCS.”

Both Dawn and Sam have continued with HRCS  programs for the remainder of high school.  In addition to regular programming, both have paid internships. Sam helps with boat maintenance, while Dawn assists with bookkeeping and database implementation.  Both have big, ambitious goals for their futures.

Dawn said eagerly, “We’re moving up the ladder.”

Beyond their love of water quality testing and rounding the windward mark, both students say HRCS has become their community.

“I had no idea what high school would be like,” Dawn said. “I didn’t know how to make friends. Now everyone knows how much I love the sailing program and how it’s my second home.”

This fall, Sam and Dawn will both be seniors. Sam hopes to go to Lehigh or Williams College to study Anthropology and the social sciences. Dawn wants to get her degree in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering from SUNY Maritime College. Both will be the first generation in their families to get a college degree, and both hope to keep sailing once they leave HRCS.

Additional Information about the Programs and Events Involved

HRCS has received generous support from US Sailing, 11th Hour Racing, and is a community partner of the America’s Cup Endeavour Program in 2016. In 2016, HRCS was awarded Outstanding Community Sailing Program by US Sailing.

Learn more about HRCS and US Sailing’s Reach initiative at the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series New York located at the North Cove Marina on May 6 – 8, 2016.

US Sailing is proud to work with Hudson River Community Sailing, America’s Cup Endeavour Program, and 11th Hour Racing to support STEM, environmental education, sustainability and the sport of sailing through the Reach initiative.

by Kara DiCamillo

Header image: Students get ready to go sailing at Hudson River Community Sailing. Photo credit: Hudson River Community Sailing