THE LOOP FEATURE: Diving In
This feature was first seen in Lewisville ISD's quarterly magazine The Loop. Both LISD aquatic centers are hosting swim lessons this summer. To learn more and register, click HERE for Westside Aquatic Center lesson information and HERE for Eastside Aquatic Center lesson information.
Students at LISD are diving in, one lesson at a time.
For years, LISD has been focused on providing water safety education for our students. The goal is simple–to allow all students to be introduced to the pool and develop basic swimming skills, all during normal class time.
Originally fourth grade students were invited to the pools to participate in these lessons, but former Superintendent Dr. Kevin Rogers sought to change that. With the opening of the Westside Aquatic Center in 2014, LISD began targeting younger students who were more at risk for water-related accidents.
So in 2014, students walked into the massive Westside Aquatic Center for the first time. The building, a 1.3 million-gallon, state-of-the-art facility, received funding from the 2008 bond. The students were greeted that first morning by Sherry McGuire, who has greeted every class since.
Sherry has been working for the district for 25 years, as the diving coach for all the LISD high schools and the Water Safety and Swim Coordinator for second graders.
At the Eastside Aquatic Center, Jennifer Peele welcomed second graders that first morning in 2014 as well. Jennifer has been the Swim Lesson Coordinator and Assistant Manager at the Eastside Aquatic Center since its opening back in 2007, and is also The Colony High School Swimming Coach. But her time with LISD actually started long before that–as Jennifer herself participated in the LISD swim program as a fourth grader at Stewart’s Creek Elementary.
Both Sherry and Jennifer, along with the rest of their teams at the Aquatic Centers, have carefully planned the four-day swim program with safety as the top priority. “It is imperative that we teach the students as young as possible how to be safe around water,” Jennifer said.
On the first day of the program, students are directed to a classroom before they get into the pool to learn basic water safety rules, many of them for the first time. Students finish their lesson, meet some of their instructors, and then–it’s time for the pool.
The first dip in the pool is focused mainly on water adjustment. “Sometimes this is the first time a child has ever been in a pool,” Sherry explained. “So for some beginners, we are just working on getting them comfortable enough to take additional lessons in the future.”
But for some students, getting comfortable in the water isn’t easy. Instructor Jeanne Hansen focuses on these students, who need a bit more support. For these students, Jeanne works on slow progressions to get them in the water.
“I try to make it their idea, and I try to make it fun,” she said. “I show them, and let them watch me. I try to earn that trust in the beginning, and go slowly. I had a kid recently who wouldn’t put a toe in the water, and I told him to watch me. And he sat there and watched, put a toe in, then another toe in, then he smiled.”
Once the students are in the water, they begin a set of drills designed to teach them additional safety skills. One drill in particular, the “Reach or Throw, Don’t Go,” allows students to practice throwing a floating object to someone who is drowning or in need of help in the water. Jennifer and Sherry agreed that this drill in particular is a fan-favorite among students.
For Sherry, this drill is her favorite part of the entire lesson too. “When a kid saves another kid, the look of gratification, and doing something that means something…is amazing. That’s my absolute favorite part.”
Normally students continue with water safety drills, work on several different strokes, and more throughout the next few days. But due to the pandemic, the lessons have moved from a four-day program to a two-day program. The move to two days was made to accommodate both second and third graders, since this year’s third graders weren’t able to attend the swim lessons last school year.
“We look forward to going back to the four-day program soon,” Sherry and Jeanne agreed. “The two-day [version] is really just the nuts and bolts.”
But these nuts and bolts are crucial to preparing students for the culmination of both the two and four-day course. “Our main goal is for a beginner to [be able to] jump in, float on their back, and swim to the side of the pool,” Sherry said. “And at the end of the first day the students either take the Water Competency Test, or they just work on those skills, depending on their readiness.”
The Water Competency Test LISD uses was developed by the American Red Cross, and consists of a series of skills that determine if a student is safe and competent to swim in the pool setting.
The design of the test is to address panic in the pool. “The kids jump in, do a 360 degree turn, and then point to the closest exit,” Sherry said. “A lot of drownings happen because a kid jumps in, freaks out, and thinks they need to swim across the pool to get out instead of turning around and reaching for the edge of the pool.”
For these students, passing this test can give parents an extra sense of ease about letting their children swim freely. After the course is over, Sherry instructs second and third-grade teachers to administer a written water safety test to ensure these skills stick with students. But even after these evaluations, Sherry always recommends that someone over 15 years old watches a child when they are in the pool.
Sherry stressed the importance of not only thinking of LISD’s program as typical swimming lessons, but also as lessons in water safety. “We’re giving kids the confidence to not panic when they get in trouble in the water,” she said. “It’s not important what level they are, it’s important for them to know what level they are and respect it.”
Jeanne agreed with this sentiment, and emphasized the importance of at-home drills to get kids comfortable in the water. “First of all, I want parents to try to get in the water with their kids.” Even during bath time, students can practice water adjustment. Blowing bubbles and humming in the water can be helpful. Kids don’t like getting water in their ears, so even practicing that in the bathtub can help.”
With these lessons and regular water safety education from teachers and parents, LISD students are equipped to stay smart in the water and enjoy swimming safely. “Water is amazing,” Jeanne concluded. “It’s really a powerful experience [for a child] to know they can be in the water safely.”
The Loop is a quarterly magazine from the Lewisville Independent School District, showcasing the latest stories, photographs and achievements throughout Lewisville ISD schools. Click here to read previous issues.