A day at the pool: Dive into the NNPS Learn to Swim program

Posted: March 14, 2024

Students splashing around in the pool on a recent morning were getting a head start on the fast approaching summer beach and pool season.

Newport News Public Schools' Second Grade Learn to Swim program gives them an introduction to water safety and the basics of swimming. In the blink of an eye, a single file line exited the school bus in front of the Victory Family YMCA and didn't stop until everybody was poolside and ready for their lessons.

For the next 45 minutes, students from General Stanford Elementary School worked in small groups with instructors guiding and assisting them every step of the way. Lots of smiles, greetings for the small band of supportive parents in the bleachers and encouragement flew around the indoor pool deck.

"The Learn to Swim program is a phenomenal partnership with the YMCA," said Tiffany Jones, NNPS coordinator of Family and Community Engagement. "The YMCA has been a wonderful partner to work with and accommodating to all our students and their unique needs."

A pilot program for two elementary schools last school year grew to 17 schools this year, and next year all 24 elementary schools will offer it to second graders. The program and transportation are provided at no cost, swimsuits are supplied if needed and students who don't want to participate can opt out and remain at school during the sessions.

Students travel to either the Tom & Ann Hunnicutt Family YMCA in Newport News or the Victory Family YMCA in York County, whichever is geographically closest to their school.

Introducing swimming at a young age in this supportive program allows students to overcome any fears of the water they may have and become familiar with core concepts of swimming. The purpose of the program is to prevent drowning and aid students in gaining confidence with water safety.

Living on a Peninsula surrounded by water makes water safety especially important in Newport News. Fatal drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death for children ages 5-14, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Learn to Swim takes place over four consecutive days with students' individual swimming skill level evaluated on the first day before they are broken up into small groups. The YMCA's certified instructors and volunteers are constantly with students for every lesson with lifeguards watching as well.

Students arrive with swimsuits on underneath their clothes, proceed directly to the pool deck to shed clothes, bags and backpacks before donning swim goggles or facemasks if desired. After a quick review of the rules explained on the previous day, they group up with their instructors.

"Are we allowed to run?" No, they shout in unison.

"Are we allowed to splash each other?" Same answer.

"How many remember their teacher?" Numerous hands shoot into the air.

As groups line up on the side of the pool or in the water holding onto the side, instructors explain today's lessons. Soon they're guiding students to practice kicking in the water, floating while using a kickboard and kicking to propel themselves backwards, how to breathe properly while swimming and how to position their arms for various strokes.

As this one session progressed, students went from introductory movements in the shallow end to some of them, with assistance both poolside and in the water, jumping into the deep end.

As the whistle blew to signal the end of the day's frothy frolic, students hastily retrieved their belongings for a quick change and return to school.