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Second graders learn to swim

March 12, 2015

by Becky Wisniewski

While some students exercise in gymnasiums during physical education class, second graders from the Albany City School District descend on Albany High’s pool for swimming lessons.  Students across six different elementary schools in the district are bused once-a-week for 15 weeks to the high school.

The lessons are a part of the student’s physical education class.  For many students, the swimming program is their first experience with water, according to Program Director Kelley Walsh.

Kelley Walsh encourages a student to jump in/Becky Wisniewski

Kelley Walsh encourages a student to jump in/Becky Wisniewski

“We have some that have never stepped foot in water before,” said Walsh.

Walsh co-teaches the program with her younger sister and assistant director, Jennifer Walsh.  Kelley Walsh is a certified water safety instructor and bases her safety lessons on the Red Cross curriculum.  The lessons are designed to teach students survival skills.

“We do a lot of floating,” said Walsh.  It is vital that children learn how to float and become comfortable in the water.  Students also receive the opportunity to learn how to use a lifejacket; something that many of them might not have been exposed to before.

For some students, the swimming lessons provide direct exposure to water-related material.  According to second grade parent Mae Williams, the lessons give her daughter a chance to really experience the pool environment.  Prior to the lessons, Timiya Tune only had exposure to the pool atmosphere on her iPad or on television.

“When she comes here, she gets a feel for it,” said Williams.  The TOAST parent believes that the program is an excellent way for students to become acclimated in the water with peers their own age instead of just with family members.  Williams has found that even though her daughter is apprehensive around the water, she is comfortable watching her peers.  Williams hopes that Tune will become more confident in the water by going through the process with her friends.

Parents are not required to be present during lessons, however Williams shows up for moral support for not only her daughter but for the other students as well.

Ari Maio practicing with a lifejacket./Becky Wisniewski

Ari Maio practicing with a lifejacket./Becky Wisniewski

The swimming lessons are beneficial not only as a safety measure, but also for simply having fun.  The program is helpful even for students with emotional and behavior problems.  According to Courtney Toomey, a teaching assistant at TOAST, her two students’ behavior improves drastically when they are in the water.

“There are not as many academic demands.  It’s more about just being a kid,” said Toomey.  It is often difficult for Toomey’s students to stay focused; however they look forward to swimming every week.  It gives the students a chance to unwind and regroup.

Many students praise the program themselves.  One swimmer, Edward Foster, from TOAST was excited to learn how to float on the water.

“I can’t wait to put on the life vest,” said Foster.  This would be the first time that Foster has ever worn a lifejacket.  He was eager to see how it would feel in the water.

Foster was joined with his best friend, Oronzo Bulson, also in his second grade class.  Bulson is an experienced swimmer who often practices at his grandma and grandpa’s house.

Oronzo Bulson, Edward Foster and Devon Hirseh waiting to swim./Becky Wisniewski

Oronzo Bulson, Edward Foster and Devon Hirseh waiting to swim./Becky Wisniewski

“Swimming is like a place to clear your mind,” said Bulson. He looks forward to coming to swim at 10am on Fridays.  Both boys enjoy the fact that they get to escape academia for a short time.

The swimming program was established as a preventative measure.  Based on a study done by the Center for Disease Control from 1999-2007, swimming pool death rates for children between ages 5 and 9 were 0.3 for boys and 0.2 for girls.  The rates were calculated per 100,000 populations.  Second graders fall within this age range where it is crucial that students have experience with swimming to prevent drowning.

In addition, the study also showed that African Americans between the ages of 5 and 19 are six times as likely to drown in pools as whites or Hispanics.  The district is home to nearly 8,000 students in of which nearly 60 percent of students are African American.

Walsh teaches three classes per day between 9 and 12 in the morning, and each class is 40 minutes long. Each one of the six elementary schools in the district comes on a specific day in three separate groups.  Even though students are not required to participate, the majority looks forward to the opportunity to become healthier and safer individuals. -30-

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