Swimming suits Mark Twain students well

March 16, 2019

Swimming is a great life skill, ideal form of exercise and a challenging sport.

Water safety and the prevention of drowning are main reasons swim lessons are important, but beyond that, there are numerous further benefits swimming provides in early childhood development. Second-grade students at Mark Twain Primary School in Kankakee are not only reaping those benefits, but spending time at the pool really floats their boat.

The Kankakee Area YMCA began the partnership with Mark Twain last school year. This year, all second graders have the opportunity to participate in Splash, nine lessons over a four-and-a-half-week period.

Mark Twain principal Ericka Garza said the YMCA approached the school last school year with the idea. Peoples Bank of Kankakee County provided funds for the cost of the lessons and transportation.

“It’s so beneficial to our students,” said Garza. “The children are more confident in all of their abilities, it develops their motor skills and enhances their cognitive development. And swimming is a great life skill to have.”

There are two levels of classes, one for students who have never been in the water and another for students who are familiar with water but are still learning to swim, said YMCA aquatics coordinator Jennifer Chambers Schwab.

YMCA aquatic instructors, Denise Kuttler, Joan Zack, Darlene Cipcich and Carol Vanweeldon, first teach students about rules at the pool, rules at a beach or friend’s swimming pool, calling 911 in case of an emergency and some CPR such as where to locate a pulse. Students then learn the basics of how to float, how to kick their legs and use their arms, how to bob to safety and how to jump into a pool correctly, said Kuttler, lead aquatics instructor.

Zack works with students who have never been in the water before.

“I love that I get to see the accomplishments they make over the weeks each group is here,” she said.

“There is a lot of energy. They have all been great groups of kids,” said Kuttler.

Mark Twain PE teacher Jeffrey Henderson noted that the program is “wildly successful. I’m a tremendous proponent of aquatics. Living in a riverfront community, it’s a blessing for us to be able to offer this program. To familiarize the children with water and water safety is priceless. Ninety percent of our students have no experience in the water. It’s added so much to the kid’s self-esteem and confidence and it develops their foundational skills such as flexibility, endurance, coordination and agility.

“The YMCA facility is fantastic. It’s a true gem in the community and a welcoming location.’’

Now in its second year, Garza is seeking donations of boys and girls swimsuits sizes 6 to 14. After each swim lesson, swimsuits and towels are washed and dried at the school and many of the swimsuits are starting to wear out.

Monetary donations for the purchase of swimsuits can be mailed to the school, 2250 E. Court St., Kankakee, IL 60901 or can be made through the Go Fund Me page, www.gofundme.com/2nd-grade-swimsuits. The program will continue next school year.