Safety around water is one of the core tenets of our YMCA’s aquatics program, and for good reason. In the US, about 10 people drown every day – 2 of these deaths generally being children under the age of 15. Research has shown that participation in formal swim lessons can reduce the risk of drowning significantly, which is why we are excited to be resuming a long-lasting partnership with the Mount Vernon School District (MVSD) to provide swim lessons for 4th grade students.
The 4th grade swim lesson program has been around for decades – spanning generations of students and two YMCA facilities. Throughout this long partnership, the Y has provided top-notch swim instruction and education to hundreds, if not thousands of 4th graders. COVID-19 prevented the program from taking place last year, so this year’s 5th graders (last year’s 4th graders) have the opportunity to participate as well.
Nikki Klinger has been managing the program for over 20 years on the MVSD side of the partnership. We had the opportunity to ask Nikki a couple of questions about the program – here’s what she had to share:
Q: What is the motivation for providing swim lessons for 4th grade students?
A: We live in an area that is surrounded by water (ocean, rivers, lakes), so it is important for everybody to know how to swim. We are fortunate to live in a place that has endless opportunities for recreation, food gathering, transportation, and exercise on and near water. It is our hope that families will ensure all children can safely swim, but sometimes, for many reasons, that is not possible. We want to be sure all of our students know how to swim and be safe around water. This program supports the district’s ultimate mission of helping our students graduate with the knowledge and skills needed to be successful in life.
Q: How does this partnership benefit these students?
A: This program is literally life-saving. Every year we have students that are terrified to dip a toe in the water, but by the end of five lessons, they are swimming. It is amazing how fast their skills improve in a short time when they have the opportunity to learn. For this program, students have a full hour for each lesson instead of the typical half hour, and the number of students per instructor is adjusted in order to maximize the number of students that can participate. The YMCA has always been very accommodating and intentional about making adjustments in a safe manner. Although this requires more energy and effort from the instructors, they always greet the kids with enthusiasm and rise to the challenge.
Q: Do swim lessons fit into the typical PE curriculum for kids?
A: Swimming instruction meets several of the state and national standards for Physical Education. Here are some examples of the connections.
- Standard 1: Students will demonstrate competency in a variety of motor skills and movement patterns.
- Swimming involves every muscle in the body and requires specific movements. It uses both sides of the brain and body.
- Standard 2: Students will apply knowledge of concepts, principles, strategies, and tactics related to movement and performance.
- Swimming is great exercise that improves cardio-respiratory fitness. Students learn how swimming fits into the “FITT recipe” (frequency, intensity, time and type).
- Standard 3: Students will demonstrate the knowledge and skills to achieve and maintain a health-enhancing level of physical activity and fitness.
- Learning to swim enables people to expand their choices for adding fitness activities into their lives (swimming at the pool or in lakes, paddle boarding, canoeing, kayaking, etc.).
- Standard 4: Students will exhibit responsible personal and social behavior that respects self and others.
- This program addresses the social emotional aspect of participation in water activities. They learn responsibility for following water safety rules and how to help others in an emergency.
- Standard 5: Students will recognize the value of physical activity for health, enjoyment, challenge, self-expression, and social interaction.
- When students gain confidence in the water, they experience the joy of movement, a sense of accomplishment, and fun with their friends!
Q: Why are you so passionate about this program? Do you have a background in swimming?
A: I am passionate about kids’ health and wellness. I was a WSI certified swim instructor when I was in college, so I have always had an interest in ensuring that everybody learns to swim. Mostly though, I love this program because I have been fortunate to see it in action for many years, and I see that it works. It is incredible to see the kids gain confidence and experience joy in the water. It is life-changing for them. It is like watching butterflies emerge from their cocoons!
Q: What do you hope the kids will take away from this experience?
A: In addition to water safety skills, kids learn to be brave and bold. They learn about perseverance. They learn they are capable of way more than they ever imagined and we help them connect that to other areas in their lives. They earn pride in their effort as well as a sense of accomplishment. Their potential is limitless!