Friday, May 11th the doors to the Graceland University pool were thrown open, music was blaring from speakers on the pool deck, parents were cheering from rows of bleachers and over 72 students from Lamoni and Leon schools were competing in their first indoor swim meet.
Graceland students stood at the ends of six different lanes with stop watches, screaming and cheering as local 6th and 7th grade students swam one lap, freestyle, as fast as their kicking legs and pumping arms would take them.
And while the students were competing with each other (and the clock) the fact that these students were able to swim this distance at any speed is remarkable. Surveys show that Decatur County, in comparison to other Iowa counties, has a high percentage of people who don’t know how to swim. The assessment isn’t overly surprising—there are few indoor pools in the area and one of the closest facilities, a YMCA in Creston, IA, was recently damaged by a tornado.
But now, thanks to a grant from the Dekko Foundation, a private foundation that seeks to foster economic growth through education, the cooperation of local schools and Graceland Assistant Professor of Physical Education Ezzeldin Aly, more people are learning to swim, and at a younger age.
Starting last February, students from Leon and Lamoni elementary and middle schools began travelling to the Graceland pool for one hour every Friday to work with volunteer Graceland students and professors, learning basic swimming skills. This time period would serve as the student’s PE time for the day. In total, over 100 local students are participating in this swimming program.
Professor Aly says that when the students first entered the pool, many didn’t have rudimentary swimming skills; some students couldn’t even walk around in the water. However, after less than 15 swim lessons all students are proficient in freestyle and able to swim for around a half hour. Many students have progressed in backstroke and breaststroke as well.
“The progress we’ve seen in such a short time is incredible,” said Aly. “This helps the local students learn to swim, but the program is also helping Graceland students get certified to teach swimming.” The swim meet challenged all the students to sprint one lap, freestyle, then concluded by having the top 12 students race each other. Students showed their sportsmanship, jumping up and cheering as their peers raced down the pool. At the end of the meet, students were awarded with participation certificates and candy.
Although this school year is coming to a close, Aly says the program will continue next fall and that he hopes to include even more students in the future. “The schools have been really understanding, giving up an hour of their Fridays to this program,” said Aly. “I’d really like to see the program grow, and reach even younger students.”
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