For the second year in a row, first-graders at Fremont Public Schools’ elementary school buildings will take swim lessons at the Fremont Family YMCA’s Dillon Family Aquatics Center as part of their physical education curriculum.
The program gives kids an opportunity to learn a new skill — one that can be valuable in a community like Fremont, said Brad Dahl, executive director of student services and business affairs for Fremont Public Schools.
“When you look at our community, obviously, there’s a lot of opportunity to interact with water,” Dahl said. “We’ve got Fremont Lakes and that great resource, and then multiple lakes all the way around, along with rivers and creeks. So exposure is real, and it’s just one of those life lessons that can help provide some safety, yet allow people to enjoy those great resources that are around us locally.”
The program, known as SwimMates, is made possible with the sponsorship of RTG Medical, who first approached the YMCA inquiring about ways to give back to the community about two years ago.
That inquiry was made after RTG surveyed its employees to ask what causes and nonprofits were most important to them, according to Veronica Barrientos, marketing and brand ambassador for RTG Medical.
Three causes were identified: supporting veterans’ organizations, supporting adoptable animals and supporting youth in the community. When they honed in on the youth element, they decided to reach out to the YMCA.
“We knew there was something that we wanted to do with them because of the great amount of youth that do participate in the Y activities there,” Barrientos said. “It really became kind of a brainstorm.”
At the time, the YMCA was in the midst of conceptualizing its new aquatic center, and so RTG and the YMCA decided to engage Fremont Public Schools about the SwimMates program.
“With Fremont being home to so many great lakes, we wanted to make sure that the youth and their families understood the importance of water safety,” Barrientos said.
Each of Fremont’s elementary schools get the opportunity to participate in the program. Members of the physical education department coordinate times with the YMCA for the kids to board buses and head over to the aquatic center, according to Dian Christensen Hillis at the aquatic center.
Each group of first-graders gets four, 30-minute lessons, with lessons including both elements that are taught in the water as well as elements that are taught out of the water — with emphasis on subject matter like water safety, Christensen Hillis said.
In the water, the kids will learn everything from front floats, back floats, arm strokes and more.
“The schoolchildren adapt really well no matter where there ability is, whether they’re a little frightful of water or have never been in water,” Christensen Hillis said. “Everybody seems to have a good time.”
After they’ve completed their four lessons, the kids “graduate,” receiving a large beach towel courtesy of RTG Medical as well as a certificate. In its first year last year, approximately 400 first-graders graduated from the program.
This year, the program also incorporated some classes from Archbishop Bergan, according to Fremont Family YMCA President and CEO Jerry Rinne.
It’s not the first partnership between the YMCA and Fremont Public Schools. The YMCA also hosts ice skating classes for Fremont Public School second-graders. That project has been around for nearly a decade.
“I think Fremont is the only place in the country with the YMCA and the schools, where we teach first-grade kids how to swim and we teach second-grade kids how to skate,” Rinne said. “When a child learns a new skill, it kind of gives them purpose, and when you get purpose you get hope, and then they can progress forward.”
Rinne says some classes enter the program with most of its members having never been in the water before — some don’t even have swim trunks, which the YMCA can provide, with help from RTG Medical, when necessary.
“By the end of the class, these kids have improved tremendously,” Rinne said. “It’s a pretty impactful program.”
The YMCA also offers swim lessons regularly, which gives kids the opportunity to continue learning.
As for RTG Medical, Barrientos says there’s no indication that it will stop funding the SwimMates program anytime soon.
“You walk into the aquatic center that you have there and you just hear the gut laughs that these kids share with the instructors teaching them how to float on their belly or on their back — it’s just like pure joy,” she said.