Hood River Valley Parks and Recreation District (HRVPRD) and Columbia Gorge Masters (CGM) received a $3,000 grant from U.S. Masters Swimming ‘Swimming Saves Lives’ foundation to fund an Adult Learn to Swim program during the month of April, 2016. The governor of Oregon declared April as ‘Adult Learn to Swim Month’. The money funded five free lessons for any adult who chose to participate, as well as providing participants with a cap, goggles, certificate at the end of the program, and a free swim pass to the aquatic center, as well as scholarships for adult swim lessons.
HRVPRD and CGM partnered to apply for this grant because learning to swim can not only save a life, but it has a multitude of positive effects on an individual’s health and well-being. Additionally, our community’s direct exposure to water in the Columbia River Gorge makes it so important for everyone to have the opportunity to learn how to swim, especially for those who have little experience with swimming or have a fear of water. Because we live in a recreational area with multiple opportunities for water sports, we felt there were many adults who would benefit from learning basic water safety, as well as becoming stronger swimmers.
The response in our community was huge. Within two weeks of posting flyers and writing an article in the local newspaper, the class maxed out at 52 registrants with a waitlist.
Our goal was to reach out to the Hispanic community, and we were successful in doing this. We had 42% Hispanic, 56% Caucasian, and 2% Asian attend classes. 79% were female and 21% were male. 44% attended 4 or 5 classes, and 71% attended 3 or more classes. Students came from the Hood River Valley, White Salmon, WA, and as far east as The Dalles and as far west as Stevenson and Carson. We had several Spanish speaking instructors for those students who were not bilingual, and we made a laminated list of common swim terms in Spanish.
Columbia Gorge Masters provided 25 volunteer instructors and six instructors from the HRVPRD staff also participated. The aquatic director provided an orientation class for all instructors, and 90% of the instructors attended that class. There was an average of 20 instructors at each class. The classes were divided into four different categories of swimmers. The first group consisted of persons with little to no experience in the water with fear of the water. The second group was persons who did not have a fear of the water but had little experience in the water. The third group was for swimmers who could swim some but needed to work on breathing. The fourth group was swimmers who wanted to refine their freestyle and begin working on other strokes. The vast majority of swimmers were at levels 1 and 2 at the beginning of the classes.
We found that swimmers did well when they saw success with actual movement and swimming. Students were often very excited as they achieved a new skill, and this was rewarding for both the students and instructors. The aquatic director developed lesson plans for each level that incorporated USMS skills and competencies, while also providing swimmers with strategies for survival, building skills, and building endurance. We made laminated sheets of the outline for skills for each instructor to have his/her own copy on the pool deck.
We found that 33% of the participants achieved all 5 of the American Red Cross competencies. Many were able to successfully swim a 25 meter freestyle or more by either side breathing or flipping over to their back for air and rest. Most of our fearful swimmers were able to swim a short distance independently and found many of the tools they needed to feel more comfortable in the water. Every swimmer left the program feeling like they had accomplished valuable skills.
We hope to offer a similar program in 2017, as it became obvious to us that there is interest in learning basic swimming skills and a need for adult lessons in our community.