Committee to look at swimming options

"Faced with community support for a revived elementary swim program, the Bainbridge School Board will form a committee to look at alternatives.We want to try to create a study-group, not long-term but focused, school board president Bruce Weiland said, not to pit people against each other, but to better address the swim needs of the district and meet some of the swim-group positives that came out of this program.The elementary swim program was established in 1972 in response to a series of drowning incidents around Bainbridge. The program has been underwritten variously by the park district, the school district, merchants and the community. The school board eliminated the program over the summer, citing a budget shortfall and the need to reserve the school day for academics. The program was replaced by free vouchers for after-school use of the pool.At Thursday's board meeting, parents presented a petition with 1,500 signatures supporting the return of the program. Most present agreed that teaching water safety to children in Kitsap County, which has more shoreline than any other county in Washington state, is as important in 2000 as it was in 1972.The big question remained, however: Who should be responsible for that education, in a time of diminished funds and increased pressure on teachers - parents or the school district? The 20 minutes allotted to discussion of the issue expanded to two hours, as parents and park district staff defended the swim program. Participants ranged from children in elementary school to parents whose now-older children benefitted.Art Biggert, a critical care nurse at Children's Hospital who has treated many victims of near-drowning, was representative of a number of parents whose children, having failed to learn to swim, swiftly became competent when the lessons were undertaken with classroom peers.Biggert told the board how his children could not swim after years of private lessons. They would stick to me like a bad bathing suit, Biggert said, but in the milieu of the class, they found the courage to perform.Parents objected to the after-school hours of the voucher system, saying first and third graders would be too tired to participate. Others said that non-swimmers, the children most in need of lessons, tend to slip through the cracks of a similar voucher system in North Kitsap. Both parents and parks staff urged the board to view physical education not as an inferior competitor for time that should be devoted to studies, but as crucial to the education of the child. We're making whole individuals here, and the swim program does that magnificently, said Tod Kowalski, swim instructor at Ray Williamson Pool.Others spoke to the need of children who are not academically oriented to have a school arena in which they can excel. As Anna Wood, Ordway 4th grader, told board members, Some kids in our class can't do stuff like reading and writing as well as some, so it gives those kids a chance to do well. Weiland charged the new committee - with members yet to be selected from among school and park district staff and community members - with short-term goals: finding a way to preserve some version of the swim program with less or no impact on the school day, and with better meeting the swim needs of the district. School board member Susan Sivitz acknowledged that further examination of the issue was called for.We may not have done our homework well enough, our information-gathering, she said. "

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