Four sets of eyes were fixed upon the calm pool water Thursday at Memorial Park Community Center, as the classmates from Ms. Smithpeters’ kindergarten class at Fairmont Elementary School were waiting anxiously to jump right in.
The group –– made up of three girls and a boy –– waited patiently with their parents as their swim instructor came out to greet them for their group lesson.
The group swimming lessons is part of Johnson City’s Parks and Recreation Department’s new program that offers an hourlong swim lesson to kindergartners in Johnson City Schools.
Morgan Robinson, 5, who was visibly excited to get in the pool and chatting with classmates before their class, said she couldn’t wait for her lesson to start.
“I get to learn how to swim,” Morgan said. “It’s really fun. I’m going to have fun by swimming.”
Morgan’s father, Timothy Robinson, said her excitement over the swim lesson hadn’t faded any during the week and said it was all she could talk about.
“I’ve heard about it for like a week,” he said. “Just getting in the water, she loves it.”
Johnson City Aquatics Center supervisor Sam Miller said the idea to provide the kindergartners with the free swim lessons came while sitting in a staff meeting. “We were all just going around the table throwing out ideas and then we all as a whole department started thinking more along the lines of safety. As a department our purpose is to provide recreational opportunities and fun to the community and in doing so we want to make sure everybody is completely safe and that they have the knowledge base to stay safe during our activities and their own personal activities,” he said. “I threw that idea out there and then we all started talking about it and kind of building upon the idea, so now we’re here and we’re ready to get these kids in the water and teach them how to stay safe.”
Miller said each class starts with one of the instructors giving the children a tour of the pool, pointing out the numbers and their meaning around the deck, talking about the difference between shallow and deep water.
“We’re also pointing out who the lifeguards are and why they’re there so that the children know they are there for safety, they’re there to make sure everyone has fun and doesn’t get hurt,” he said. “After that ... we’ll get in the water and then talk about different ways to avoid getting into bad situations. We’ll talk about how if they do ever swim, to always swim with a buddy. Never swim alone.”
Some of the skills explained to the Fairmont students Thursday included how to throw flotation devices to someone in distress and to pull them to safety, how to react when a lifeguard blows his whistle, why it’s important to walk instead of run around the pool deck, as well as where it is safe to dive in the pool.
During Thursday’s lesson, the kindergartners also practiced going underwater, how to float on their backs kicking with assistance from their instructor and jumping into the pool at different depths by themselves.
Baleigh McKeehan, 5, said jumping in at 3 and 4 feet of water was one of her favorite parts of the lesson, as well as retrieving a plastic water stick from the bottom of the 4-foot section.
“I love water,” McKeehan said. “It’s fun.
“The kindergarten age is a very key age. We’re not trying to teach your child how to be an Olympic swimmer in this time period, we just are really trying to raise awareness and teach them some safety rules about the pool, who they can turn to in an emergency situation and just different important aspects of the aquatic vicinity,” Miller said. “We’re trying to inform and educate the parents as well, so that they can continue it at home. We are handing out a list of safety rules for the pool environment so that the parents can go home and just add on to what we’ve taught to the children.”
The next school’s scheduled for swim lessons include:
• North Side Elementary — Tuesday.
• Lake Ridge Elementary — April 23 and 25.
• Mountain View Elementary — April 30 and May 2.
• South Side Elementary — May 7 and 9.
• Woodland Elementary — May 14 and 16.
• Cherokee Elementary — May 21 and 23.
• Towne Acres Elementary — TBD.
Miller said so far swim lessons have been going well and said he would like to see the program grow.
“In my personal opinion, I would like to see this program grow until maybe even the school system would add into their curriculum swimming lessons, because it’s just such an important life skill that I think everyone should know,” he said.