CHIPPEWA FALLS — Eight-year-old Jaxon Lee sat on the side of the pool at the Chippewa Valley Family YMCA on Monday, chatting with his friends at the end of a 45-minute swimming lesson.
“It’s super fun,” Jaxon said of swimming during the middle of the school day. “I’ve had swimming lessons before, but it was a long time ago.”
Nearby, 8-year-old Rylee Knorn said she doesn’t get into a pool often.
“It’s awesome,” Rylee said as she splashed by the edge of the pool. “I’m learning to swim.”
The second-graders at Parkview Elementary School are part of a pilot program in which the four sections of classes, totaling 64 students, are taking swimming lessons at the YMCA for six weeks.
Funding for the project came from the Edwin & Evelyn Nyhus Centennial pass-through fund and the Community Foundation of Chippewa County, said Jim Ignarski, YMCA marketing and business development director.
Cathy Krula, the YMCA’s aquatics director, said she has wanted to put together swimming lessons for the school district for the past decade, and it finally came together this year.
“We started noticing how many kids can’t swim but thought they could swim,” Krula said. “We just want kids to learn safety and basic swimming skills.”
Krula was in the pool Monday working with the students on basic strokes. She was having fun working with the young kids and seeing their reactions to being in the water.
“It’s just absolute enjoyment,” Krula said. “Even though many don’t know how to swim, they love being in the water.”
Terri Weichel has been physical education teacher at Parkview for the past 26 years; this new program is the first time she has brought students over to use the YMCA’s pool.
“I think it is fantastic,” Weichel said. “We have a lot of students that have never been in a pool before. We are creating a safe way for them to learn. It’s teaching them to respect water and be safe around water.”
Weichel said the YMCA initiated the program.
“I’d love to see it offered districtwide,” Weichel said. “We’ve had kids here who have never smiled so much.”
Because the buildings are across the street from one another, the students walked to the YMCA for the 45-minute class.
“We walk back just in time for lunch, and they are hungry,” Weichel said.
Of the 17 students swimming Monday, Weichel estimated only five have “good survival strokes” at this time.
“The good thing is their classmates see them do it, and they want to be like their classmates,” Weichel said.
Jennifer Sherbinow, Chippewa Valley Family YMCA executive director, said that many of the Parkview students had never been to the Y, and some had never been in a pool.
“I’m happy we can provide the kids with the opportunity for some water safety and make it fun too,” Sherbinow said.