For ten years, Rob Hendry, aquatics director at Dow Bay Area Family YMCA, wanted the local elementary schools to add swimming and water safety classes to their curriculum. Drownings are the fifth leading cause of unintentional injury death, making it important that children learn early on how to be safe around water. Unfortunately, the schools don’t have the financial resources to do this.
This past year, thanks to grants from Bay Area Community Foundation’s Civic League Fund and Youth Advisory Committee Fund, Rob saw his dream become a reality.
These grants provide buses to bring all third grade classes from Washington Elementary to the Dow Bay Area Family YMCA once a week for class. They learn water safety techniques, how to use water safety equipment, and about the importance of the buddy system. Then, depending on the student’s level of comfort around water, they begin swim lessons.
Rob remembers one student who was so scared, he could only put his feet in the water. But by the end of the class, he was in the deep end! Other students are immediately comfortable and begin learning the different strokes. Rob said it’s important that they meet the kids where they are at to help them work past their fears and not push them past their limits.
He hopes the success of these classes will help the program expand to include all elementary schools in the area.
Beyond water safety and swimming, the instructors are helping these students build a sense of accomplishment and confidence. “Hopefully that transfers over to the rest of their lives,” said Rob. “We’re more than just swim coaches: we’re life coaches.”