Return of swimming lessons

After a lengthy hiatus, Westwood Middle School’s sixth-graders will once again take swimming lessons at Spring Lake Park High School.

Starting the week of Sept. 24, students will have the opportunity to engage in two 35-minute sessions. The idea is to teach students basic life skills in the water, such as the front crawl and how to float.

“Because we live in this land of 10,000 lakes, we feel it’s important for kids to have some life skills and knowing what to do in the water,” said Lori Lightbody, one of the physical education teachers at Westwood bringing the program back to the school.

The initiative comes on the heels of several child drownings reported in the news media this summer.

Phy ed teacher Tom Benson estimates it’s been more than 20 years since the district last offered swimming lessons to middle-school age students.

Until about 10 years ago, swimming was part of the physical education curriculum for ninth- and 10th-graders, but lack of funding shut the program down, Benson said.

“I think it’s wonderful,” he said about the newly offered sixth-grade swimming classes. “It’s something that’s been neglected in our district for many years.”

The school is committed to heightening awareness of the importance of lifelong fitness, said Principal Paula Hoff.

“Swimming is definitely a lifelong skill,” she said. “We also are aware that many of our kids do not and have not had any exposure to water safety. This is not much, but it is a start.”

The lessons are geared to help students avoid panicking in the water should an emergency arise.

“If they remember how to do a survival front float, that can calm them down,” Lightbody said.

“We feel a passion that we need to give skills so, hopefully, we won’t have so many drownings.”

The way Benson sees it, students need to feel comfortable around water, whether it’s jumping into a pool or lake, going boating or spending time near a lake picnicking with family. The lessons will also teach skills on helping others to shore should they accidentally fall in a lake.

For the sessions, the sixth-graders will be bussed from Westwood to the high school during their health or physical education class.

Westwood’s phy ed teachers will conduct the classes, while two to three life guards will be on duty.

Cost for the classes are about $1,160; $600 for the life guards and $560 for busing. Costs will be paid from the school building’s budget.

In addition to Lightbody and Benson, other phy ed teachers and advocates of the swimming program at the middle school are Briana Vescio, Doug Potthoff and Kevin Mestad.

“The plan is this will be something we’ll do every year from this year on out,” Lightbody said.

Elyse Kaner is at [email protected]