In by Benjamin GeffkenNovember 9, 2022
This year, our team thoughtfully constructed a program that would recreate in the virtual world the community that makes being on the pier so special. Our top priority was to support our kids emotionally and help them address the feelings of isolation, anxiety, and stress that many were experiencing. Our strategy:
“I think every year with kids at Courageous you see relationships form. I think whether online or in person, I still had those relationships form with students and coworkers… One thing Courageous does well is unity. I have always found myself making new friends, connecting with old ones, and becoming friends with my instructor. Courageous to me is one big family and I think everyone is always there to support you.”—Jean, Swim Sail Science instructor and former Courageous kid
After our kids’ tough spring of remote learning in school, we knew that it would be critical to make the online Courageous Sailing experience hands-on and interesting, especially because many of our students—especially those already disproportionately affected by the upheaval of the pandemic—had lost so much ground academically. We needed to make learning fun! Our strategy:
“I was SO impressed at the job your team did. On the first day I walked by my Step 5 (somewhat sullen, quarantined) teenager hearing him laughing and happily engaging with his group. Then hearing what they were doing everyday was so amazing. Highlights I heard about (or watched): the sailing regatta app (so cool!); The underwater view of the sea under the dock; the interview with the Commander of the Constitution (that was really amazing)! I commented to my husband that the Courageous Team should be coaching the schools on how to run Zoom meetings.”—Kristin, Courageous parent
Youth are living in a world that can feel frightening, hostile, and unjust—a place where it’s difficult to feel safe, set worry aside, and just be a kid. Whether on Zoom or on the water, Courageous made sure that our students had plenty of opportunities for fun.Our strategy:
“I could have fun at home as much as outside.”—Ryhan, Courageous student“My favorite memory from Courageous is hanging out with instructors and friends and having fun with them!”—Zhencong, Courageous student
There’s no question that the pandemic has been psychologically tough on youth. Ln the fall of 2020, half of teens experienced mental or emotional health challenges, and 31% of parents had seen their child’s emotional or mental health suffer. Coming into this past summer, many Courageous kids reported feeling sad, lonely, or anxious about interacting with others after being apart for so long. They were pleasantly surprised by how quickly time spent together in a boat allowed barriers to melt away and friendships to be forged. To help kids develop skills to navigate the challenges they were facings, our 2021 leadership team included four trained social workers, who taught classes in communication and teamwork, handling emotions, celebrating personal strengths, and addressing setbacks. For students in need of more intensive support, the expertise of our social workers, along with the mentorship of other staff members, were an invaluable resource. Many noted a profound and welcome change in themselves by the end of their time with Courageous: in the simple words of one young sailor, “I am happy.”
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Courageous is committed to providing equitable access to high-quality learning programs for kids of all walks of life, regardless of financial means. Sailing has traditionally been a sport of the rich and the white, and that needs to change! We are proactive in our efforts to reach out to and include young people who might not otherwise get involved. Course fees are determined by financial need, and our Swim Sail Science academic summer program and new school-day programs are completely free for participants. To eliminate potential barriers to participation, Courageous provides Swim Sail Science students and alumni with school bus transportation throughout Boston, meals, and ongoing swimming lessons. In 2021, over half of our intermediate-level sailors started their Courageous journey with Swim Sail Science!
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Access to learning opportunities has never been more important. The academic disruption of the pandemic has impacted all students, but it has been worse for youth of color, who may have “lost” the cumulative equivalent of 6-12 months of learning. Summer learning programs like ours are critical to getting kids’ education back on track. Our free, five-week Swim Sail Science program, offered in partnership with Boston Public Schools, engages elementary students at risk of learning loss. Each summer, sixty kids reinforce reading, writing, and math basics and build high-level critical thinking skills through a hands-on, environmental science-based academic curriculum. Data confirm that year after year, Swim Sail Science students make impressive academic gains and become more confident, engaged learners. But learning doesn’t stop with Swim Sail Science! After a school year in which many students felt left behind or uninspired, Courageous sailors at all levels were excited to jump into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) activities. Students waited breathlessly on the dock to see and learn about the animals our two marine biology instructors brought up from their dives. Kids learned about buoyancy, design, and how sailboats work by creating and testing “trash boats,” kites, and marine debris skimmers. From testing water quality to bouncing between squeamishness and curiosity while watching an up-close fish dissection, Courageous kids got caught up in the fun of learning, and they’re ready for more.
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Supporting students as they recover emotionally and academically isn’t something that schools can do alone, and we are thrilled that two Boston Public schools have turned to Courageous to partner with them. In the fall of 2021, we achieved a long-awaited goal: expanding our school-year programming so that we can be there for kids all year round during the school day, and can serve even more young people. Our school-day program combines STEM, social-emotional learning, and sailing, serving approximately 260 kids in two under-resourced schools. During weekly lessons with Courageous educators, 3rd and 4th graders are exploring ecosystems, climate, and marine biology, while 5th and 6th graders are building their understanding of aerodynamics, buoyancy, weather, engineering, and more through a series of hands-on challenges. Teachers and students alike have let us know how engaging and effective our lessons are. This pilot program is so important that we are providing it at no cost to the participating schools and families, and we are asking for your help. We know that the Courageous approach works in a way that goes beyond summer, and we hope you will support this next step!
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