Our Towns

City’s Second Graders Learn to Swim at YMCA

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Thanks to recent renovations at the YMCA of Youngstown, the swimming pool at the Central Branch is the first thing students in Youngstown schools see when they enter.

The expression on their faces says it all, the executive director of the branch, Mike Shaffer, said Monday. “It’s like they just walked into Disney World,” he told reporters.

At a news conference, officials of the YMCA, United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley and Youngstown City School District celebrated a partnership that provides swimming lessons to students in the district.

YMCA is known nationwide as “America’s swim instructor” and, over the past 50 years, the Central Branch has taught more than 20,000 Youngstown schoolchildren, said Thomas Gasce, YMCA of Youngstown president and CEO. This school year, the branch will provide swimming instruction to more than 400 second graders in the city school district.

Many students have little experience or no ability to swim, Debbie Beil, a second grade teacher at McGuffey Elementary School, said. “They go to the pool. They play around. But they don’t know proper swimming technique.”

Students lacked swimming skills before the eight weeks of classes acquire them and those with some ability learn better techniques, she said.

United Way, which funds the program, has supported it several years but has taken the initiative “to another level now” under city schools CEO Krish Mohip, the local president of United Way, Bob Hannon, said.

“Swimming is a lifesaving skill, not just another sport at the Y,” Gasce added.

The YMCA’s CEO offered two statistics to illustrate the importance of the lessons: water covers 70% of the world and 100% of kids are curious.

Shaffer, who described the program as one of his favorites, added two statistics, both of which he described as “scary.” Seventy percent of blacks and 60% of Hispanics can’t swim, putting these kids at an “unacceptable risk.”

One challenge the program faced is that many students lack swimming suits, but the partners have succeeded in getting donations of suits from local stores, he said.

Lifelong academic learning is a priority for the city school district, and swimming is a “perfect example” of a lifelong activity, but a lot of students don’t have access to learn how to swim, Youngstown Superintendent Joe Meranto said.

“So many times we emphasize our schools’ team sports,” Meranto said. “Swimming is something that everybody could participate in.”

Meranto noted that one reason many city pools were unable to open this year was the lack of lifeguards, so the program could help provide the “future lifeguards of Youngstown.”

Beil said her pupils look forward to the program every week. “The students love it. They are so excited every Monday,” she said.

Armiah Jordan and Jayden Wilson are among Beil’s students. Both say they are benefiting from the program.

Armiah, who said she knew how to swim “a little bit,” said the program has taught her how to swim more safely.

Jayden didn’t know how to swim before the class. “I like doing this,” he said.

Pictured at top: Second grader Joe Bell learns flotation techniques with swim instructor Gina Brown.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.