For people who grew up swimming like fishes, it’s hard to imagine how challenging it is to learn how to swim later in life. For people who don’t learn how to swim at an early age, the water — in even a placid pool — can be terrifying.
Among my favorite destinations at Eagle Rock School is our swimming pool, accessible to all students and staffed with Red Cross-certified student and staff lifeguards to keep everybody safe. In fact, one objective of our aquatics program is to make the pool available to students of all swimming abilities. This is particularly important in a diverse community such as the one that populates Eagle Rock.
Statistics show that in the United States, black children drown at a rate that is three times that of white children, and Latino children drown at double the rate of white children. Furthermore, children of any race who have parents who don’t swim have only a 17 percent chance of learning how to swim themselves.
But it’s far more likely that children from communities of color are likely to not only have parents who can’t swim, but probably don’t have easy access to pools in their community. Many Eagle Rock students fall in that category and as a result, have a healthy fear of water.
My work at Eagle Rock includes creating a learning environment where students with no swimming experience and/or a fear of water can get individualized attention. Most recently, I encouraged students to sign up for morning exercise for swimming (Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 7:15am), knowing that during that time I could really personalize their lessons.
That personalization began with Javonnie. I asked her to stand, and then walk in the shallow end, all the while holding on to the side of the pool. Her fear of water was very real and very intense. Here’s how Javonnie remembers it:
“I started by walking in the pool — at the shallow end — and then moving toward the deep end. I practiced touching the bottom with my feet and then bouncing myself back up.”
Javonnie really challenged herself, progressing bit by bit, and within a trimester, she was using a kickboard in the shallow end. When Courtney and Brianna joined us the following trimester, all three girls began challenging each other and pretty soon, all three were swimming independently.
Courtney recalls that first day in the pool:
“I swore to Anna that I was never going into the deep end of the pool. Every Tuesday and Thursday morning Javonnie, Brianna and I were in the pool and Anna was teaching us new techniques. My big issue was going under water without goggles on my eyes and nose because I wasn’t good at not breathing in under water. Anna bought all of us those special goggles and that’s when I became more comfortable.”
Brianna says that within weeks of joining the class she was able to do the backstroke, swim with her face in the water and breaststroke. “Now I feel happy and proud about the progress I’ve made since I been here,” she said.
Javonne agrees, saying:
“Now I can actually swim. During my time here my teacher has worked with me and my comfort zone to improve not only my swimming but my comfortably in the water. Now I love swimming and I’m not afraid, I still feel more comfortable with goggles but as time passes I hope to get over that fear.”
Courtney recalls the baby steps all three of them took those first weeks. “By the fourth week, all three of us were swimming in nine-foot-deep water and we didn’t even like the shallow end of the pool anymore. We’d go to the bottom and lay there and sit down. It just became so much fun and I remember being happy that I finally knew how to swim.
At the beginning of the class, the girls issued me an edict: They told me they weren’t ever going to the deep end. And yet, not a week later, they were challenging each other to dive to the bottom in 10 feet of water. All three of these students have seized an opportunity and created skills that they can use for the rest of their lives.
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About The Author: Anna Magle-Haberek is the Human Performance Center Instructional Specialist at the Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center in Estes Park, Colo. There, she teaches classes in physical education and health, including lifelong fitness, coaching, Run for Your Life and swimming. She also teaches Red Cross curriculum such as lifeguarding. Anna has worked in sports, health and fitness in a variety of positions including as a college track coach, a personal trainer and an EMT/Ranger with the National Park Service. She is certified through the Red Cross as a lifeguard instructor, water safety instructor, and a First Aid/CPR teacher.