Jumping in the Deep End

1st Grade students took a trip to Collegiate School Aquatic Center to learn essential swimming skills.
Learning to swim is a life-saving milestone. It has a marked developmental significance similar to learning to ride a bike or discovering the trick to throwing the perfect spiral. But swimming — unlike removing the training wheels from a bike or passing a football to a friend — is a skill that can save a life in a dire situation. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that drowning is the second leading cause of injury or death for people between the ages of one and 14, and research from the Amateur Swimming Association shows that one in three children leave primary school unable to swim. Swimming might seem instinctive to some, but the American Red Cross indicates that 61% of Americans either can’t swim or don’t possess all the basic swimming skills. 

In early December, 1st Grade students took a trip to Collegiate School Aquatics Center to learn and strengthen those essential water skills. Students donned swimsuits and gathered around the edge of the pool, eagerly listening to SwimRVA’s expert instructors as they coached the students through basic pool decorum. Then, without fear or fret, the 1st Graders jumped in, splitting up into the seven stations set up around the pool, each one focusing on lessons such as floating, blowing bubbles and treading water.  

“What we’re doing is teaching kids the fundamentals of swimming and the rules of water safety,” explains Debbie Kelo, Ph.D., the Director of Programs at SwimRVA. “Knowing and understanding water safety and aquatic fitness gives children the competence and confidence needed when playing in and around water.” 

One SwimRVA coach instructed students through a “tickle-t-touch” drill, in which swimmers lie on their backs and calmly bend their outstretched arms to “tickle” their armpits, then stretch their arms back out, their body in the shape of a T. From this position, the students use all their strength to push their arms downward to touch their sides. It’s a fun drill that makes students comfortable with floating and swimming on their backs and lays the foundation for treading water.  

Collegiate, in partnership with SwimRVA, sends each 1st Grade class through this swim course, giving students the tools necessary to become confident swimmers.

Following swim instruction, the seven groups transitioned their focus to life-saving techniques. Students learn how to fasten life vests, how to toss a buoy to a struggling swimmer and how to operate an inflatable raft in the water. 

Scott Bennett, Director of Communications at SwimRVA, says it’s all about giving children access. “We want to give all Richmond-area kids access to water and access to coaches. So many people don’t know how to swim because they’ve never had the opportunity to learn,” he says. “We want to make sure every person in our area has that opportunity — that they have access to aquatic-based programming.” 

Watching from the pool deck, 1st Grade teacher Ellen Faris cheers on her class. It’s a tremendous learning moment for her students. “I think it’s great that Collegiate is teaching students the ins and outs around the pool,” she says. “I can tell they’re having a blast, too, which is important. And the fact that they’re learning these sometimes-daunting lessons with their peers I think makes them more comfortable. This is just a great chance to get kids familiar with the water and reduce their risk of danger.”