TERRE HAUTE —
Water safety instructor Devin Bull held on to the West Vigo Elementary kindergarten student as she floated on her back, a big smile on her face.
Three other children sat at the edge of the Vigo County YMCA pool, eagerly awaiting their turns with Bull to float, kick, splash or even submerge in the water.
An entire class of West Vigo kindergarten students, divided into smaller groups, learned the basics of water safety and beginning swimming skills as part of a pilot Swim by 7 program.
Swim by 7 is a collaborative effort involving the United Way of the Wabash Valley and the Vigo County School Corp. As envisioned, all VCSC kindergarten students would participate in the learn-to-swim program once the new VCSC Aquatics Facility is constructed and ready for use at Voorhees Park.
With groundbreaking anticipated by the end of June, the aquatics facility is slated to open in August 2015.
The Vigo County YMCA agreed to develop and offer a pilot program that began in early April, with one West Vigo Elementary kindergarten class involved.
“They [YMCA] are doing us a favor by stepping up to the plate,” said Superintendent Dan Tanoos. The YMCA is doing the pilot “to ensure when we open up, the kinks are worked out and we know what to expect.”
United Way provided funding for bus transportation.
Allison Steiner, YMCA aquatic director, has developed Swim by 7 based on the American Red Cross learn-to-swim program. There is also a classroom component in which swim instructors went to the school to talk about water safety, Steiner said.
The entire program involves six sessions over three weeks (twice a week), one in the classroom and the next five in the pool. Thursday is the last swimming lesson.
During the swim sessions, five water safety instructors working with small groups have taught children floating, kicking and arm strokes while on their front and back.
Some children were more advanced and could already swim; others gained confidence being around, and getting in, the water.
Children may not learn how to swim in five lessons, but “hopefully this will help them to be safer on the water in the future, especially since summer is coming up,” Steiner said.
The swim instructors told Steiner they’ve seen “huge improvements” in the children’s water skills, she said. A few students who lacked confidence around water now are “loving it.”
She noted that for children under age 5, drowning is a leading cause of accidental death, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
West Vigo kindergarten teacher Rachel Pavelka said the program “has been absolutely wonderful. The students have done a good job. They’ve really enjoyed it.”
Instructors have done a nice job doing age-appropriate activities, she said.
Once Swim by 7 is implemented at the aquatics facility, VCSC swim instructors would provide the instruction and swim lessons to children, Tanoos said.
When the program begins in 2015, United Way of the Wabash Valley will use grant funding to assist with bus transportation and other costs, said Troy Fears, United Way executive director. Details are still being worked out.
“It’s part of our Healthier by 2020 initiative” to get people more active and physically fit, Fears said.
Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or email@example.com.