Swimming program dropped

"A popular activity for elementary school students will be dropped from the calendar this coming school year.The swimming program, which has been part of elementary curriculum for the past 25 years, will be terminated this fall due to changes in scheduling. School District Superintendent Steve Rowley announced last week that the swimming module will be discontinued, as it no longer fits into the time frame of the school year.School administrators were unavailable to comment at press time. But some island parents, too busy to take their children to the pool for lessons, are outraged by the cancellationWe cannot let this happen, said Suzy Cook, who had two kids learn to swim through the program. This is a very important program for kids who live on the island.Island schools have provided swimming classes for students since the early 1970s. The program was originally intended for elementary through high school students, and was eventually trimmed to first, third and fifth grade classes. Since the opening of Sakai Intermediate School, however, fifth grade students were also cut from the program because of how it interfered with scheduling. Now it appears that swimming courses will be withdrawn from school curriculum altogether.In an attempt to compensate for the loss of the program, the school district plans to offer swimming vouchers, so that parents can take their children to the pool outside of school hours. However, opponents feel that vouchers are a poor substitute for the school-based program. One complaint is that vouchers do not provide children with the same atmosphere that they had in a class setting. Vouchers sound wonderful, but the fact is that parents are tired after work, kids are exhausted after school, and they are going to miss out on the benefits of learning to swim in a comfortable environment with their peers, said Mary Braden, a swimming instructor at the Ray Williamson Pool. Another problem with the vouchers is that it does not include the water rescue and emergency safety skills aspect of the former program.With more and more children getting in boats and playing on the beach, local parents and teachers are concerned for their safety and want them to learn how to respect the water, Braden added.Braden said many of her students have come back and said that they used the techniques they learned in the program to get out of difficult boating situations and help friends in water skiing accidents. We are an island, Braden said. All the children here need to learn how to handle the water, not just the privileged few whose parents are able to take them to lessons.Although enthusiasm for the program has increased among students and parents, new scheduling and the initiation of standardized tests in elementary schools has made it nearly impossible to sustain.But many parents feel that the swimming program is a worthwhile interruption to academics because it actually works to enhance many of the skills that are necessary for a progressive education.I am passionate about the program for many reasons, said Cook. Studies show that eye-hand coordination and full body movement physically improves the academic process, and I have seen this in my own children. The swimming program was funded by the park district, and provided different levels of instruction for student classes. It was offered during two-week segments for one hour each day. The only cost involved for the school district was transportation.I thoroughly believe in the program, said Braden. The teachers that I have spoken with also think that it is needed, because of the can-do attitude that kids come away from the pool with. I would like to bring it back."

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