For most elementary school students, physical education class involves activities such as jumping rope, running outside, and indoor exercises. However, for the second-graders at Aguilar Elementary School in Tempe, Arizona, physical education class includes swim lessons.
Thanks to a partnership with the City of Tempe and funding through a private donation from Chances for Children, all second-graders take one quarter (about 10 classes) worth of free swim lessons at Kiwanis Recreation Center. During the other three quarters of the school year, students are in their regular P.E. class.
“We felt the age of a second-grader was appropriate for the responsibilities needed from the program, such as bringing a bathing suit, towel, and remembering the days that they swim,” said Aguilar P.E. teacher Brian Sternberg. “This is also a good age when children can improve their skills quickly and remember the necessary details in order to improve.”
According to a parent survey given to the first-grade families at Aguilar in April 2014, only four students in the entire grade had ever taken swim lessons and nearly half of the students did not know how to swim.
In a state like Arizona where swimming is almost a daily activity during warmer months for many children, and with an alarming number of drownings and near drownings reported each year, learning to swim is critical for children.
Parent feedback from the survey included comments such as, “We always wanted to put our daughters in swimming lessons but couldn’t afford it or make it work with our work schedule. It is very important to us and we know that swim lessons can save lives.” Another parent said, “I would like my son to take swimming lessons for his safety; I don’t know how to swim so I cannot teach him.”
Aguilar parent liaison Sylvia Lopez felt compelled to help the Aguilar community and make sure that students were safe around pools while at home.
“This program was started with the intention of helping our students become educated in water safety,” Lopez, said. “Although my initial goal was to educate them about water safety, I quickly realized that saving them from a potential drowning is much more important. Nearly 87 percent of Aguilar’s student body is made up of inner city students who do not have the luxury of attending private swimming lessons. However, the majority of our students have a canal in their backyard and if they happen to fall in the canal, they need to learn how to get out. Starting the program educates not only the students but their entire family, as they will go home and ‘show’ their families what they learned.”
Swim lessons started in August of this school year and have run each quarter since. Students walk with school staff from the Aguilar campus to neighboring Kiwanis Wave Pool two times a week, and the City of Tempe swim instructors teach the lessons. Students are broken into different groups based on an initial skill assessment.
This program has had a big impact on students at Aguilar, especially in the second-grade community. Parents constantly provide positive feedback and highlight the importance of this program. Whether it is swimming for skill or survival tactics, like floating, the students are much more competent and smarter around water.
“The students are always so exited to go to the pool and meet their instructors,” Sternberg said. “They love learning in the water, and I hear comments daily from students about how much they like it.”
Tempe Elementary School District and Aguilar Elementary are looking forward to continuing this program for the next group of second-graders during the 2015-2016 school year.