The Oahe Family YMCA in Pierre is partnering with elementary local schools for free swimming lessons.
The announcement came August 29 from Aaron Fabel, CEO of YMCA. “We are offering swim lessons to all first graders who attend at Pierre, Stanley County and St. Joseph Elementary School,” said Fabel. “We have reached out to the principals and superintendents.”
The Y’s aquatics director, Holly Hardy, and her crew are ready for the classes coming out of the Y’s Safety Around Water Initiative.
The YMCA, currently offering swimming lessons in a partnership with the United Way, is expanding the program.
Sanford Health Pierre Clinic is supporting the free water safety program for first graders, according to Angie Bollweg, clinic director, who said she is very happy with the program and with the partnership.
Each first grade class will have four lessons during a given week, each lesson being about an hour long. The arrangement includes transportation for the first graders from their schools to the Y and back again.
Also, if some children do not have the needed articles on a given day, a limited supply of swimming suits and towels will be available. The lessons include not only the basics of swimming, but also how to call for help and what to do in an emergency.
“It’s no secret that we have a lot of access to a lot of water in our community; from the river, lake and numerous swimming pools,” said Fabel. “Drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death for children under 14. The Oahe Family YMCA believes that all children should know how to swim and be safe in and around water. Swim lessons do not make anyone drown-proof, but they do help keep kids and adults safer in and around water, and that’s what this program is aimed at doing.”
“About 400 to 450 kids will be impacted by this, annually,” said Fabel. “We hope to start classes in the next month or so, whatever will work best for the classes, instructors and schools. Some classes will start sooner, while some will start after the first of the year. It’s a big partnership; whatever works in the schedule and curriculum.”
“We can’t thank Aaron Fabel and the YMCA enough for providing this opportunity for our 1st graders,” said Kelly Glodt, superintendent of Pierre School District. “When community agencies work in cooperation, it is pretty amazing what can be accomplished. The school district had very little to do with the organizing and leg work necessary to make this a reality. We simply, graciously, accepted the offer.”
“Each school and 1st grade classroom will schedule with the YMCA,” said Glodt. “Once schedules are finalized, each child will get more detailed information to take home. No child would be forced to participate, but from our previous experience, I don’t know that we have had any students opt out. Most parents are grateful for the opportunity. Water safety is an important lesson for children in any community, but definitely in our area.”
“The Y is working with River City Transit to provide transportation,” added Glodt.
Fabel explained part of his energy for the program.
“I had a near-drowning as a youth,” he said. “And that really propelled me to become a swimming instructor. I want to give back what the YMCA gave me as a kid. While swimming is fun, it can be dangerous.”
“What we’ve heard is that second grade is kind of that magic number; learning to swim gets harder later. We use first grade as a starting point, and hopefully the kids’ interest will be there to continue learning and getting better. Who knows, maybe they will want to be a swimming instructor some day,” said Fabel.
YMCA information includes, “71 percent of the world is water; children are 100 percent curious.”
A typical session includes:
Exercises to help kids adjust to being in water
Instruction in “Jump, Push, Turn, Grab” and “Swim, Float, Swim,” two skill sets kids can use if they unexpectedly find themselves in the water
Specific safety topics, like what to do if you see someone in the water who needs help
Fun activities that reinforce skills
“Drowning can happen nearly anywhere with water. But, as a parent or caregiver, you can’t keep your children sidelined. You need to equip them with the tools they need to be confident in and around water so they don’t lose out on the health benefits of exercise, the opportunities to bond with family and friends and the sense of accomplishment when they learn new skills,” the YMCA information noted.