A Journey Through School Day Adaptive

A Journey Through School Day Adaptive

by Ruby Lyon

Every season we look forward to our School Day Adaptive Program, a collaboration with School District 75, which provides on-land and on-water rowing instruction to girls with physical and cognitive disabilities. We love seeing all the news faces and returning students too. A particularly powerful program, School Day Adaptive provides students an outlet for fitness and wellness, and the opportunity to join our adaptive recreational or competitive teams afterward.

“Rowing is awesome because any ability can do it. They (the girls) can learn patterns either rowing together or separate. This is a treat for them!” – Ksenia Ferrand, Physical Education Instructor, John F. Kennedy Jr. School

This year’s spring season kicked off on March 21st, with 10 schools participating every week. Here’s a snapshot of a typical School Day Adaptive program:

Before students arrive, Row New York coaches open up the World’s Fair Boathouse in Queens. They clean the docks and prepare the barges. Sometimes, like last week, they chase away big swans who like to roost on the docks. Ergs are set up and our coaches plan indoor exercises to get the blood pumping and to improve rowing technique. When the students arrive, it’s a festive time. Each participant is full of excitement; maybe it’s seeing the water, the anticipation to practice their rowing strokes, or the novelty of it all. Like any proper team building day, we start with learning everyone’s name and favorite colors – the important stuff! After stretching and warming up with squats, jumping jacks, and ab work, it’s time for the ergs.


While on the rowing machines, students learn how to put together a rowing stroke. We practice our “chicken wings” with arms up near the chest. “Knees up to squeeze up” reminds the students how to move from the catch. The girls absolutely love the erg sessions. The room is full of glee as they try to increase their stroke scores and race during two-minute sprints. Transformations occur quickly. There are students who arrive and don’t know where to start. Listening to directions or holding the erg’s handle is a challenge. But then it all starts to come together. By the end of the erg warmup, the group as a whole improves in their ability to be synchronized – a feat most beginners struggle to achieve. Next, arguably, is the best part of the program: getting out on the water. 


Students suit up in life jackets and make their way down the docks. Nerves are a common theme among the girls as they don’t always know what to expect. As soon as they are in one of our stable rowing barges, the uncertainty melts away. Students strap their feet in, grasp the oars, and review the rowing stroke with coaches. Then it’s time to push away from the dock and put all of their on-land knowledge to work on the water. At first, their oars do not move together. Still, the barge starts to move away from land. As students become more comfortable, they are reminded to do “chicken wings,” to follow their teammate in front of them, and to move in rhythm. Soon, the barges are really moving, with oars flashing up through the water at the same time. Rowing commences.


Depending on the group and day, the barges make it to the opposite side of the lake. Distance, however, does not determine a day’s success. What really matters is the connection each girl makes with the sport and themselves. Are they having fun? Are they discovering a new strength, hobby, or confidence? These are the takeaways Row New York aims for.


When they arrive back, everyone is proud. It’s time to circle up, stretch, and recap on their favorite parts of the day. Most students report that being on the water was the best part! We say our goodbyes, but not for long, because we will reunite the following week.


Each season of School Day Adaptive continues to inspire Row New York, and we hope our participants feel the same way. If you missed our blog from the fall season highlighting Angela, the School Day Adaptive dancer, we highly recommend it. Her story capitalizes on a student’s personal takeaways and lessons from the program with insights from a mom.

Lastly, we leave you with some of the best highlights from the program and a great parody to Pharrell’s Happy: