Some call it “School Sailing.” Kids call it “the best day of my life!” Whatever you call it, it’s a fun-filled, action-packed, sailing extravaganza that gets every 5th grader out sailing on Lake Winnebago in Oshkosh, WI. Oh – and let’s not forget teaching science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) through sailing, or using sailing to teach team-building and leadership skills to kids!
According to Steve Eliasen, Director of International Youth Sailing of Oshkosh and mastermind/magician of this three-ring circus, what began eight years ago with 60 charter school students has exploded to become the largest school sailing program in the US, exposing nearly 1500 school kids to sailing every year for the past several years!
What does it look like? 80 kids arrive at the beach on a yellow bus in the morning and learn to sail by lunch time. They leave, and another 80 arrive for the afternoon. Eat, sleep and repeat for roughly two weeks in both June and September. Some kids design and build sail rigs for O’pen Bics, some fabricate their own Hobie Wave sails and some create and pilot their own life-sized solar-powered boats.
Why Oshkosh – kind of your average city in the Midwest? According to Eliasen, three things:
Lake Winnebago, one of the largest inland lakes in the US that offers easy, inexpensive access and perfect sailing conditions
Bold school district leadership that sees the potential and helps make it happen. “This could happen anywhere,” says Eliasen, “but it happens here in Oshkosh because our school district leadership and teachers embrace it fully and make it a defining component of being a student in Oshkosh public schools. If you are among the 10,000 public school student in Oshkosh, you sail. Period.”
The incredible generosity of donors and volunteers who give everything they’ve got to get kids learning to sail and connecting with the remarkable, natural aquatic environment in their own back yard.
Says Eliasen, “We started this program because we believe what every sailor knows in their bones – sailing is a complete education. That everything you need to know about life, including academics, you can learn from sailing. As one of our supporters (who happens to be an MD) puts it, mastering sailing is no less an accomplishment than completing medical school.” Check out their latest video!