Students studying outside the library
Wofford student starts program to teach swimming to kids

 Kierstan McDowell, 10, left, gets tips on swimming from Wofford's Taylor Rouse. Wofford students take time to teach young people at the Spartanburg Swim Center how to swim. Photo credit:ALEX HICKS JR/
By Felicia Kitzmiller
Published: Sunday, April 28, 2013

Wofford College freshman Alex Vary still remembers when he was introduced to swimming at 6 years old at his community pool in Greensboro, N.C.

He took to it like a fish.

The competitive swimmer and water enthusiast didn’t realize until high school not all children were as comfortable around water as he was growing up. When the Greensboro pool started a program to help children in the urban area learn how to swim, Vary said he was surprised how many children didn’t know how to swim.

Vary was inspired by the Greensboro program to start something similar in Spartanburg as part of the scholarship program Impact, which requires Wofford students to engage the community in new and innovative ways. Vary called his program Swim 4 Success, and by May, Vary along with volunteers from Wofford College and the Spartanburg Swim Center, will have helped 120 fourth and fifth graders learn how to swim — potentially a life-saving skill.

“By this point, if they haven’t learned to swim, they probably won’t,” Vary said. “So many kids go to pool parties, and these kids don’t know what to do if they fall in the water.”

Vary partnered with the Spartanburg Swim Center to offer the free swim classes to children in the Boys and Girls Club. Pool administrators offered the facility and instructors at no charge.

“I feel like that’s what we’re here for,” said Liz Walker, a recreation specialist at the pool. “This age group and demographic are the highest statistic of drowners.”

To get to as many children as possible, Vary limited the lessons to three one-hour sessions over three weeks. He runs the lessons on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons with different groups attending on each day. There are usually about 20 kids in each group and about eight to 10 instructors.

On the first day, they just get in the shallow end of the pool and play games and blow bubbles to get comfortable in the water, Vary said. The second week they learn some basic swimming strokes and floating and the third week they venture into deeper waters to learn about diving into the pool, treading water and getting to safety.

“We see a lot of progress from the first to the third week,” Vary said.

Any child who doesn’t demonstrate basic skills in the water at the end of the third week receives a voucher for additional lessons from the swim center.

“We’re not trying to get them to swim team level or anything,” said Walker. “Just if they fell in a pool they would be safe … Some of them, when they finish, are at a totally different level from when they started.”

Copyright © 2013 — All rights reserved. Used with permission.