Julie Richards, branch marketing and development director at the YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties, contacted me from the Tom Taylor Family YMCA, better known as “the Gig Harbor Y.”
She let me know that the Y was hosting Discovery Elementary School students at the facility’s pool early last month.
“We would love to have you there,” she wrote.
I grabbed my camera and attended March 1. What a delight! Discovery’s kids were an excited, bubbly gaggle of second grade boys and girls. After showers and donning their swim gear, they assembled at pool edge in groups reflecting different levels of experience in the water where they received briefings before moving to their separate pool areas.
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Though tempted, I did not dive in with them. Woulda ruined my hairdo!
Second-grader Kelsea Gardner said, “At the YMCA you can do a lot of stuff, like go on the diving board. You can get flexible by bending in a certain way. I learned when you are done with your clothes, put them back in your bag. If you put your clothes in your bag, you won’t lose them. More kids should take water safety at the Y because the YMCA teaches you how to be safe in the water, on docks, and how to swim.”
Now you know why we were there.
As Richards explained, the Y’s partnership with the Peninsula School District includes and serves all eight elementary schools. “Safety Around Water” includes four 45-minute lessons focused on lifesaving swimming skills. Volunteer and paid instructors help ensure well-organized transitions between groups.
“The Tom Taylor Family YMCA is funding the swimming lessons through its annual campaign, ensuring every child has access to a balanced life by providing financial assistance for memberships, camp, child care, and outreach programs,” Richards said.
Student Kaiden Clark liked the “baby side because it has a beach (sic). The beach is fun because you can go on your belly and go on your back. I learned at the Y to not be scared of the water. I am not afraid to jump in the pool. I think kids should go to the Y because it’s the best place to learn to go swimming, and it’s fun.”
Classmate Elliana Harvey thinks “the YMCA teachers are nice. They have stations and start you off in the shallow end and move to the deeper end when you are ready.”
“Learning backstroke at the Y is fun,” said Halle Torres. “Learning how to keep my belly up when I am doing backstroke is challenging. Learning how to keep my chin up is challenging, too. You should take water safety at the Y because it is really fun and you learn a lot.”
Noah Smith’s favorite thing was swimming back and forth to the instructor. “I like swimming because I like getting in the pool,” he said. “I learned to backstroke. When l do backstroke, I sink. You should come here because you learn new things.”
Each student learns what a PFD (personal flotation device) is and how to properly use it, how to rescue a person using a throwing and reaching assist, how to swim out of a current, where and when it is appropriate to swim, how to contact emergency services, how to dive safely and how to prevent water-borne illnesses through personal hygiene.
“We use pre and post tests to assess student progress in our Assess Efficacy Program, using all of the above as well as Overall Swimming Skills, in which 80 percent of participating children will progress from one level to the next; Breath Control, bobbing in and out of the water with air exchange; Float/Kick, where the goal is to float on back and front moving more than 20 feet on each; and Returning to Wall/Shore, in which the goal is to jump from pool side into deep water, swim out, tread water, and return to the wall unassisted,” Richards said.
Declared Brittany Dinkle, “Chicken, airplane, and soldier (sic) is the best because it is fun. I learned how to backstroke. You put your hands behind your back. Other kids should go to the YMCA; it is so fun and you learn how to swim.”
To Lucas Tanzer, “Jumping off the diving board was fun. I learned how to swim. I learned how to do the strokes in the water. If you can’t swim the Y is the perfect place for you (to learn how).”
“The best thing was learning red light, green light, yellow light and purple light,” said Virginia Lynne Knutson. “You kick your feet when you do that stuff. I learned how to do the starfish float. You spread your arms out like a triangle. Yes, children should go to the YMCA because, they could learn lots of swimming!”
The Tom Taylor Family YMCA Safety Around Water program began in 2016 with two schools, Voyager and Vaughn, serving about 120 students. It went so well, the Y and Peninsula School District partnered again in 2017, opening it to all eight elementary schools. This year, the Y will serve approximately 650 students, providing the tools necessary to be safe around the water.
“There is 295 miles of coastline in the Pierce and Kitsap Counties YMCA service territory,” said Marcus Henderson, the Y’s senior aquatics director. “Our kids are exposed to water — it’s a part of their everyday lives. If they don’t know how to be safe around it, that’s when accidents happen. Drowning is the second leading cause of death amongst children and teens, and most drownings occur within 10 feet of safety. The Safety Around Water program aims to provide kids the tools they need to survive.”
“Our students had a great time learning in the water,” said Discovery Principal David Brooks. “The partnership with the YMCA provided an active and fun experience for our kids. Second-grader Elliana Harvey shared that she learned basic water safety skills like the ‘starfish float when you are tired’ and ‘to always wear your life jacket on the dock or in a boat.’ It is encouraging to know that all of our second grade students have water safety experience at the YMCA pool and know how to be safe around our pools, lakes, rivers and the Puget Sound.”
Hugh McMillan is a longtime contributing writer for the Gateway. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.