Monday, August 1, 2016

Partnership Supports Swim Lessons and Water Safety Skills

More than 300 students from four elementary and two middle campuses in Spring Branch ISD learned basic swim skills and water safety lessons this summer through an ongoing partnership between the district and the Brenda and John Duncan YMCA and City of Houston’s Swartz Pool.

Basic swimming skills and water safety were taught during four-week sessions in June. Students from Landrum and Northbrook middle schools, plus Shadow Oaks, Spring Shadows, Westwood and Woodview elementary schools attended. The program began almost two decades ago with a Buffalo Creek Elementary student group.

From just such a tiny spring, a river eventually flowed. During 18 years, almost 3,600 Buffalo Creek students have taken part in the YMCA’s swimming and water safety program held each fall and spring. Edgewood Elementary joined the program this year, too, as well as the summer program campuses.

“The students were excited about the summer program and the results are amazing,” said James Browning, YMCA aquatics director. “We are thrilled that the success of the partnership between the Duncan YMCA and Spring Branch ISD has helped keep thousands of children safe in and around the water since the program started back in 1997.”

“This summer, we taught 300 more students. Just watching the students have fun swimming and seeing them feel more confident in and around the water is such a wonderful feeling,” Browning also said.
Photo courtesy of Andrea Benge

Woodview Elementary’s Andrea Benge said that the school joined this summer through the ACE (Afterschool Centers on Education) program. Swimming was rated a favorite student activity.

“We had several students that started the four-week program not knowing how to swim. By the end of those four weeks, most of those students were in the deep end [of the pool] learning how to dive and swim,” she said.

“We saw so much great growth in Woodview students that we have decided to continue with swimming lessons this fall. Our goal is for all our students to learn to swim,” Benge added.

Watch Video - Woodview Elementary ACE Program >>

Becky Marr, health fitness specialist at Buffalo Creek Elementary, reported that SBISD and the YMCA partnership began at Dad’s Club on Voss. It was an immediate success with 90 percent of students attending eight lessons for 30 minutes each, twice a week.

The next year, the program included first- and second-graders so that students took two years of lessons to better retain swim and water safety skills. When the Clay Road YMCA opened in 2004, the Buffalo Creek swim program moved its lessons to that location.

“The objective of these field trips to the YMCA and the lessons are not to learn the sport of swimming, but rather to learn life-saving techniques like floating, gliding, kicking, breathing, and arm strokes, as well as basic water safety skills,” Marr has said. “If this leads a child to take more advanced lessons or swim team later on then that is just icing on the cake.”

“Keeping children safe in and around the water is the most important thing I do as a volunteer,” said Bruce Rollins, a longtime volunteer who helped organize Buffalo Creek’s first program.

Buffalo Creek’s parents may attend swim lessons to ease any anxieties the children may have and also learn from instructors about basic breathing techniques or swim skills and techniques.

Marr believes the swim lessons support academics, and may even have a practical use years later – several students have been certified as college-age lifeguards at the Clay Road YMCA!

“I have observed that the [swim program] students gain increased self-confidence and self-esteem at all levels. Refined physical skills, an increase in English vocabulary, practice of trusting others, and building a sense of community have all been evident,” Marr said.

Edgewood Elementary joined the partnership this year. Health Fitness Specialist Art Nevarez said that about 200 first- and second-graders took the swim and water safety classes. “We will definitely try our hardest to make it a yearly tradition!” he proclaims.

“Seeing the students transform from someone who fears the water to someone who enjoys being in the water was priceless,” Coach Nevarez said.

“The YMCA and the swim instructors and lifeguards that teach our students are truly a blessing! It’s evident that they care, and that they have a strong, genuine passion for helping youth learn swimming skills and water safety concepts that make a difference for a lifetime. The look on the students face and the feeling of joy is such a wonderful thing to see. I believe that this program has saved lives and that it will continue to save more as it continues,” he also said.

For details about this swimming and water safety program, or related aquatics programs offered through the Duncan YMCA, please contact Aquatics Director James Browning at or (713) 467-9622.

SBISD volunteer swim instructor Russell Hubbard contributed to this news report.


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