The Sharon Academy (TSA) and Marlboro College are in the same boat – figuratively and literally. They are both small Vermont schools, nestled in small communities near rivers. Both schools are known for their individualized approach to education, and both schools have to work creatively to address funding shortfalls. And this Fall, they were both using the same kayaks.
“We have several students this year who are kinesthetic learners who are also interested in environmental studies,” explains TSA teacher and alumnus John “Spike” Carter. “We also have a river outside our front door that we wanted to take more advantage of.” So when Carter and fellow TSA teacher Rob Stainton decided to re-launch TSA’s Kayaking E lective, Carter knew exactly who to contact for advice and help. Spike called Randy Knaggs, the Director of Outdoor Programs at Marlboro College, Spike’s alma mater.
Knaggs understands how empowering outdoor sports like kayaking can be for young people. “While engaged in outdoor sports,” explains Knaggs, “students are confronted with challenges for which they must plan ahead, analyze risks, and develop back-up plans. These skills are directly transferrable to all aspects of life, including academics.” Knaggs arranged for Marlboro College to donate seven whitewater kayaks along with the requisite equipment to TSA. Interestingly, Marlboro’s kayaking program began with donated kayaks as well.
Six TSA students took the kayaking elective, spending 16 hours on the White and Connecticut Rivers with Carter and Stainton, who both have extensive whitewater experience. As an endorsed raft guide, Carter leads rafting trips on the Deerfield River and holds his Wilderness First Responder certification. Stainton is a certified kayak instructor through the British Canoe Union and who has also worked for NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School). Through TSA’s Kayaking Elective, Stainton and Carter taught students basic kayak skills like stroke mechanics, swimming in the current, wet exits, the foundations of rolling, and basic river safety.
“Kayaking is a life-long sport, so we are instilling a habit of activity for these students,” adds Stainton. “Additionally, kayaking is a great way to forge a connection to the outdoors. Stewardship of the land is taken to another level when you are participating in a sport that allows you to see the environment from the river level and brings you to places that would otherwise be inaccessible. Kayaking also opens up discussions about water – rights, pollution, access.”
Carter adds, “It’s a common misconception that small schools can’t compete with large schools when it comes to offering students opportunities. In fact, our small size allows us to be resourceful and creative, putting together these types of opportunities that step outside of the traditional classroom.”