BELOIT - If Spencer Waite's vision comes to fruition, every 10-year old in Beloit will be comfortable in the water after their fourth-grade year.
Waite, the City of Beloit's recreation supervisor, has partnered up with the Stateline Family YMCA to implement a pilot program involving the city's four intermediate schools.
As part of the trial, a section of gym classes from Fruzen, McNeal, Cunningham and Aldrich will rotate spending time at the YMCA and the Beloit Memorial High School Natatorium.
"Essentially, we're giving all these kids a week of free lessons," Waite said. "Right now we are hitting about half the students in the district in that grade, but if all goes well and we run the program full-fledged, we'll get to all of them in the coming years."
Waite stressed the importance of learning to swim.
"The simple fact is that swimming is a necessity for life in general," Waite said. "This is an idea we've been kicking around for a while. We felt like some programming was really needed in this area. We feel like what we see at Krueger pool, a lot of the saves we have could be prevented just by the kids having general knowledge. We want to make them more aware of the water, and teach them how to get out of trouble if they face it. I don't expect that every child is going to be proficient by the time their week is up, but at least they will be comfortable."
Waite's goal is to make the program part of the annual curriculum in the schools. He said they are expecting a wide range of abilities from the students entering the program, which began this week at both locations.
"We are going to see kids who have never been in the water, and we start teaching for that ability," Waite said. "I'm sure there will also be kids who can swim laps around me that first day. The YMCA staff is providing instruction at their facility, and we've got high school students who are in Richard Vogel's lifeguarding class and we are making this part of their curriculum. This is going to teach those kids to teach lessons as well, and that can prepare them for a job with the YMCA or the city. There are quite a few benefits to this program."
Kim Waite, the YMCA"s Director of Aquatics, said she was pleased with the turnout of students from McNeal and Fruzen, who are taking the first rotations.
"We had 36 kids that came out this week from McNeal here at the Y," Waite said. "Next week is Aldrich and Cunningham. For instructors here at the Y, I've gotten lucky in that I've got some college students here who don't have class at this time, and I've gotten some kids from the high school in a work-release program in addition to my own staff. We have a couple of pools and a river here, and our main focus with these kids is going to be water safety. We have some kids who came through our program at the Y or Catch the Wave, and we have them in the lap pool to teach up to their level as well."