A yellow school bus arrives at the Wichita Swim Club, and 50 anxious faces gaze at the large swimming pools.
Many of the children have never swum before, but they are about to learn.
The children, from the Boys & Girls Club of South Central Kansas, are learning basic swimming techniques this summer as part of the “Make a Splash” initiative at the Wichita Swim Club.
“A good majority of these kids were hesitant at first,” said Katherine Hall, swim school director at the Wichita Swim Club. “Our main … goal is safety first. If they fall in the water, we want them to know what to do.”
Make a Splash was started by the USA Swimming Foundation to provide the opportunity for kids to learn to swim. The Wichita Swim Club has partnered with the Boys & Girls Club with the goal of giving 200 children swimming lessons this summer.
“As a swim coach, there are so many kids we aren’t reaching out to because they can’t swim,” said Brian Kupferer, general manager and head coach of the Wichita Swim Club. “If they had been exposed to swimming, who knows, they could have been the next Cullen Jones.”
Jones is the face of Make a Splash and a 2008 Olympic gold medalist. According to Jones’ website, he “is dedicated to helping minorities learn to swim.” Jones is African-American.
Drowning is the second-leading cause of accidental deaths in children, according to USA Swimming. Seven out of 10 African-American children cannot swim and neither can six out of 10 Hispanic children.
“Here we are really focused on skill, but we want them to have fun,” Hall said.
A large floating mat in the shape of a hippopotamus is a favorite among the kids. Those who have trouble putting their faces in the water practice by retrieving diving rings. Getting out of the pool by herself, one little girl gets a high-five and congratulations from her instructor.
Tyler Stacey, a Wichita Swim Club employee for more than 10 years, said there are many rewarding aspects of the Make a Splash initiative, including giving kids a new opportunity and teaching them skills they normally might not have a chance to learn.
“For me, it’s about the kids,” Stacey said, “just being able to see them succeed.”
Children ages 5 and 6 attend lessons Monday and Wednesday; 7- and 8-year-olds attend Tuesday and Thursday. Lessons last one hour each afternoon. Each group has about 50 children, and lessons last for two weeks. Starting June 25, a new group of children will begin lessons.
Several volunteers from the Boys & Girls Club attend the swimming lessons, and credit the swim instructors with helping the children feel comfortable in the water.
“I’m hoping they learn enough skills to be safe,” kindergarten group leader Alisha Hilleary said. “That’s why I brought my own son. I want him to learn skills that could maybe save his life.”
Hall said she has already seen a lot of improvement in the children’s abilities and thinks that having them in small groups allows them to progress more quickly.
“I was kind of scared at first, but then I got the hang of it,” 6-year-old Maykala Corr said. “When I got the hang of it, it wasn’t that scary.
“Sometimes you can be afraid of the water, but you don’t have to. It’s not that scary.”