P66 Gives Back: Amphibious Achievement Changes Lives
by mike watkins//correspondent
Long-time USA Swimming corporate partner Phillips 66 has been a sponsor since 1973 and involved in the sport overall for seven decades. Today, Phillips 66 believes they can improve lives through energy, and in that spirit, usaswimming.org is highlighting swimmers of all levels who have benefited from Phillips 66's contribution and chosen to give back to the sport of swimming or to their community.
The goal of the Amphibious Achievement program is simple yet poignant: to promote success in and out of the water.
This is accomplished through a combination of instruction in aquatic sports and college preparatory tutoring, both of which tend to be inaccessible to low-income youth during their high school years.
“Amphibious Achievement is a dual athletic and academic mentorship program for low-income high school students from the greater Boston area,” co-founder Ron Rosenberg said. “All of the opportunities are provided free of cost to our 45 student-athletes called Achievers during the program.”
The motivation for the program came from co-founders Rosenberg and Noam Angrist’s experiences as student-athletes at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and athletic coaches in the Boston area.
They were inspired by parents who approached them at the end of the season and raved that their children were “harder working, more disciplined, had better time management skills and were overall more successful.”
Angrist and Rosenberg knew this to be true from their own experience, but hearing it from their student-athletes’ parents resonated with them. They wanted to capitalize on to these spillover effects from athletics and continue to mentor their athletes in the classroom and in life, but they couldn’t find a local program that combined athletic and academic mentorship in a rigorous way. So, they created their own.
After spending more than eight months putting together the pieces, they launched the program in March 2011. This came after spending countless hours writing grants for funding, developing a 60-page unique curriculum and acquiring sponsors and community support.
“Our name speaks to the slogan ‘success in and out of the water,’ and the amphibians that similarly embody this motto,” said Theresa Oehmke, a civil and environmental engineering student at MIT, who helps run the program.
More than a year after its founding, Amphibious Achievement joined USA Swimming’s Make a Splash program in Nov. 2012, and although they are a recent partner, the team has taken advantage of the many opportunities the relationship affords, such as procuring caps, suits and goggles.
“This has allowed us to significantly reduce our operating budget and thereby continue keeping our program free of charge,” Rosenberg said. “Through Make a Splash, we have also had the privilege of getting in personal contact with Cullen Jones, and we hope that Boston is a part of the 2013 Make a Splash Tour. In the future, we plan to leverage the MAS network to apply to grants and forge relationships with other local MAS partners to plan swim meets.
“When we received our informational video, wristbands, pins, water safety cards and flyers, the Achievers were very excited. More importantly, they were very inspired to join an organization headed by Cullen Jones, a role model who comes from a similar background as their own.”
Rosenberg said that Achiever parents – most of whom had never learned to swim themselves – were equally excited about the Make a Splash relationship. Many of them had not heard of the program before, but it put them at ease to know that Amphibious Achievement was partnering with an organization that promotes water safety.
“For them, Amphibious Achievement is more than a mentorship program,” Oehmke said. “It’s one that helps educate their children in water safety and helps safeguard their kids’ lives. Furthermore, they were excited that their children’s newfound water safety knowledge could be transmitted to other children in their community, to help alleviate the threat of drowning for other urban youth.”
Members of Amphibious Achievement meet every Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., giving them access to rigorous athletic coaching in rowing and swimming, as well as college preparatory academics.
Program directors present athletic and academic material through engaging and dynamic lesson plans. In the classroom, they teach critical reading skills using The Economist, math lessons through logic puzzlers that challenge even the best of MIT mentors, and grammar skills through competitive Grammar Jeopardy.
On the athletic end, rowers learn the basics of rowing posture and body swing by rocking back and forth on an ergometer to the rap song “Lean with it, Rock with it.” Swimmers learn body alignment through creative drills, such as having Achievers balance a cup of water on their forehead while swimming backstroke.
Amphibious Achievement also has extensive programming outside the Sunday Sessions.
“We hold study halls during the week, where Achievers come to MIT to meet one-on-one with our mentors and delve into specialized academic topics, ranging from geometry to economics to college essays to how to use iMovie,” Rosenberg said. “This summer, we also launched our first-ever four-day summer workshop, SURGE!: A Scientific Approach to Summer.
“During SURGE!, Achievers came to MIT for seven hours every day for four days to engage in leadership activities and hands-on experimentation, as they learned about the scientific concepts behind rowing and swimming.”
Oehmke and Rosenberg saw participation grow in the past two years. During the pilot semester, there were just 19 participants from one public high school in the Boston area. Today, there are 45 Achievers from five public high schools.
The program is also launching its first expansion to Northeastern University this spring, expecting to add 15 new members to the program.
“Amphibious Achievement is a program about students inspiring students; it is about preparing high school students to be successful in the real world,” Oehmke said. “We helped Denise, an Achiever from a broken family, to get into college – the first person in her family to do so. Zeyu, an Achiever whose first language is not English, went from being a shy and introverted student to an articulate and confident public speaker. He even broke out of his shell so much as to showcase his hidden talent during our talent show: Moonwalking like Michael Jackson.
“Meanwhile, Chazz, a dedicated swimmer, swam two lengths of the pool without coming up for air. And then there is Carly, who has gone from not working at all to working at McDonald’s and then Sears, helping her overcome her adverse situation at home and take the first steps to becoming financially self-sufficient. Through athletic and academic mentorship, we are promoting a culture of achievement and are an integral support network for our student-athletes.”