Bothwell Middle School students use rowing machine to address special needs

MARQUETTE – A new rowing machine at Bothwell Middle School is doing a lot more than just showing kids proper rowing techniques.

It’s teaching them responsibility and leadership, with a focus on students with special needs.

“They help each other get on the machine, if they’re limited with their feet, they help them put their feet in there,” said Ann Piereson, a special needs instructor at Bothwell and a member of the Upper Peninsula Community Rowing Club board. “They set it up. They clean it up afterwards, so they’re learning to care for each other and for the equipment.”

The rowing club was instrumental in bringing the rowing machine – referred to as an ergometer, or erg – to the middle school.

Debi Cook, also a rowing club board member, authored the successful grant, which was written for the Marquette Community Foundation’s Youth Advisory Committee.

The YAC is comprised of area students in sixth through 12th grades.

Cook said she was first turned onto the idea of introducing an erg to kids with special needs by the rowing coach at Michigan Tech University.

She said several studies have shown the benefit of offering ergs to kids with special needs.

“There’s a lot of studies that have been done in Europe and the UK, working with kids of all different abilities and what a great thing the erg is for them,” Cook said. “A lot of kids can’t participate in a traditional phys ed class, so I decided to, on behalf of the rowing club, get permission to use our name to do it.”

Cook said she wrote a grant for three machines and was awarded the funds to purchase one.

“Ultimately, I have this dream of having at least one – but I’d like more than one because it is social for these kids – in all of the schools,” Cook said. “I would like to see it all the way through Marquette County.”

Piereson said the grant allows for the use of the machine in the middle school during the school year, with students with special needs stopping by her classroom a couple times a week to use the machine during her prep hour.

“It started off with two boys, now we have a group of about 12 that like to use it regularly,” Piereson said. “It’s worth it, when you see how far they’ve come.”

Piereson said some of the students were wary about using the machine at first, but after spending time learning how to use it properly have taken to it with amazing speed.

One of those students is Tyler Melchiori, 10, who said he likes to use the machine because it’s good exercise.

“If you want to get in shape, you can get in shape,” Melchiori said.

Piereson said Melchiori took to the erg quickly and enjoys showing the other students how to use the machine, as well as how to care for it.

“I tell them what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong,” Melchiori said.

Even in the short time the erg has been available to them – since February – Piereson said she’s noticing a change in the students, who are tasked with setting it up, signing in to use it, then cleaning the entire machine before putting it back in its place in the classroom.

“It’s been wonderful,” Piereson said. “It’s a chance for the kids to learn to work together as a team.”

The erg will remain at Bothwell until the end of the school year, when it will be moved to the UPCRC’s clubhouse, where it’s youth rowing club will have the chance to use it during the summer.

The youth rowing club’s first meeting is set for 6 to 7:30 p.m. June 3 at Peter White Public Library.

For more information on the rowing club, visit

For more information on the community foundation’s Youth Advisory Committee, visit

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.