Monday, April 6, 2015

A Letter to the Editor of Sailing Magazine

Dear Sailing Magazine Editor,

In the February edition of Sailing magazine, Nick Hayes published an editorial piece entitled - “Kids should sail because it’s fun, not because it’s homework”. The article made references to US Sailing’s Reach initiative for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education. First, a big thanks to Nick for his continued work promoting sailing, and for highlighting these innovative programs.

We would like to take this opportunity to provide your readers with some background on the Reach initiative and address some misconceptions. Much of what Nick discusses regarding sailing and learning, kids and fun, are cornerstones for the Reach program and other STEM sailing initiatives. We are certainly not trying to change the face of youth sailing, but open doors to new possibilities. Reach is a grass-roots program derived from community sailing, the bedrock of learn to sail programs around the country. These organizations are utilizing their infrastructure, expertise and relationships to be a more valuable and relevant resource for their communities.

Through Reach, middle school teachers and youth sailing program directors work together to teach middle school kids sailing, essential academic skills and environmental stewardship. The weather, water, and everything on a boat provides a real-world, hands-on application of STEM subjects. Students gain an understanding about how math and science are relevant and applicable in everyday life, and in the process, many kids who may not have had the opportunity to learn to sail, get the chance to try it out.

Reach is not replacing recreational sailing or racing, but providing another way to get more youth on the water. Reach introduces kids to sailing and best practices in on-the-water safety, while learning about their environment, and having fun. Sailors are constantly learning. It is one of the many attributes they love about the sport. They learn something new every time they get on the water.

Reach and other STEM sailing initiatives are addressing one of the more pressing issues in the U.S. today: education and inspiring kids to learn and engage with mentors. Educators understand that experienced based, hands-on exploration and learning is one of the most effective approaches to education. Teachers are looking for innovative ways to infuse elements of fun to STEM subjects. Sailing is contributing to the solution, and we should embrace it. This is learning by discovery.

Instead of sitting in a classroom, kids are out on the water sailing. Instead of reading about the water cycle in their textbook, they are looking at a local chart, putting their hands in the water, and experiencing the water cycle where they live.

Over the last three years, the Reach curriculum has been implemented in 20 countries at over 400 sailing centers – community sailing programs, summer camps and yacht clubs - impacting over 100,000 students, 90% of which are first time sailors. Funding for these programs in the U.S. comes from private donations, organizations that support and promote healthy afterschool activities, and foundations and corporations that understand the value of STEM. Is it possible that some public school dollars that are targeted to provide innovative education programs may be supporting STEM sailing initiatives? We hope so. We need to be resourceful in how we promote and grow sailing.  Unfortunately, unlike the governments of Canada, France, Australia and New Zealand, the U.S. government does not fund sailing or other sports programs.

Student feedback of Reach has been strong:
•    92% of students reported they enjoyed participating in the Reach program.
•    79% of students surveyed reported they would like to participate in a program like Reach again in the future.

Reach and the other STEM sailing initiatives are all about collaboration, mentoring and providing an environment for exploration, experiment, discovery and learning. There is no lobbying, but rather providing tools, resources and support for local organizations to develop programs that best support their local communities and provide opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t exist for many kids, so that they too can feel the motion and hear the sound of the water, feel the wind and gain self-confidence.

Nick, we hope you will visit one of the many programs around the country to see first-hand how these are not programs robbing the fun out of sailing, but opportunities to excite and inspire kids.

Reach and other STEM sailing initiatives have made a significant, positive impact over a relatively short period of time. We invite readers who have an interest, to get involved first-hand through their local sailing program. Please visit for more information.

Math Rocks,

Jack Gierhart
Executive Director of US Sailing

1 comment:

  1. Full disclosure, I'm part of the US Sailing Training organization. Huzzah for Jack's great blog post on the true value of REACH. Not to make sailing more like school. just a bit of making school more like sailing. Thanks to you, Jack. And, also, thanks to Nick for the provocative article.