The ‘Learn to Swim’ Program has been a part of the aquatics curriculum of the YMCA (Young Men Christian Association) for the past decade and it continues to grow under the directorship of Marvin Johnson.
The certified swim coach and lifeguard instructor is completely resolute in his mission to teach every child within the Grand Bahama community how to swim, as swimming is not only for enjoyment but is a valuable asset that can save a life.
“The Learn to Swim Program has been in existence for the past 10 years and has been designed to teach children how to swim as well as equip them with life saving techniques in the event they are caught in an emergency situation.
“Our nation is surrounded by water and it is imperative that our children learn to swim from an early age, as too often we hear about drowning incidents that could have been avoided if a child had learned to swim,” said Johnson.
According to Johnson who is also an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician/Paramedic), the most effective way of ensuring as many children possible learn to swim correctly is through partnerships with government and private institutions that incorporate the ‘Learn to Swim Program’ in its physical education curriculum.
Currently, there are10 schools actively involved in the ‘Learn to Swim’ Program including Bishop Michael Eldon School (BMES) and Sunland Baptist Academy (SBA) that are equipped with their own swimming facilities.
“Normally when we make a plea to parents a number of excuses arise and unfortunately our children miss out on the opportunity to benefit from the program.
“The ‘Learn to Swim’ sessions are held Tuesdays and Thursdays at the YMCA for an hour under the watchful eyes of the program’s certified lifeguard/swim coaches.
“There are two certified lifeguard/swim coaches stationed at BMES, two at SBA and six at the YMCA who ensure the program is running smoothly.
“The YMCA caters mostly to the public sector due to the large amount of students however, only 40-60 students are taught per session and we strongly urge parents to enroll their children in the ‘Learn to Swim Program,’” said Johnson.
Noting that KinderCare Learning Centre has participated in the ‘Learn to Swim’ Program almost since its inception, Johnson said he is pleased about the increasing number of preschools across the island that have signed up to be a part of the program as well.
The Lyford Cay Foundation has also partnered with Johnson and the ‘Learn to Swim’ Program as board executives also see the urgent need for the program to be implemented in every school across the entire Bahamas.
“I would sincerely like to thank the Lyford Cay Foundation, its executive board and Mr. Lemco who serves as the major sponsor of the ‘Learn to Swim’ Program.
“They have seen the necessity in the growth and continuation of this initiative and through their efforts students enrolled in the program learn to swim free of charge.
“The only funds students are required to pay are for transportation to and from the YMCA.
“The Lyford Cay Foundation shares the vision I have and as such urges the government to get onboard with the program and for every dollar the Bahamas Government spends to ensure the program is properly integrated into schools across the nation, the foundation has agreed to match it.
“This in itself speaks volumes and is something that should be utilized as soon as possible,” Johnson revealed.
Naturally Bahamians are reactive waiting for tragedies to strike before taking the initiative to be proactive doing what is necessary to prevent regretful situations said the aquatics director.
According to him swift action must be taken now so children learn how to swim as the benefits of such are enormous.
“Learning to swim is more than something to do for the sake of doing it or for enjoyment as swimming helps to condition the body.
“There is no sport that can prepare a child to swim but swimming prepares a child for every and any athletic sport known to man.
“It also benefits asthmatics, teaching them how to control their breathing through a series of techniques making them less dependent on medication, it helps persons needing physical therapy and even the elderly plagued with arthritic conditions and it provides opportunities for persons to compete on the world stage in the sport as well as provides job opportunities (lifeguards, divers, underwater welders etc.).
“Here at the YMCA we give students an opportunity to become comfortable in the water and they move from stage to stage in learning the proper way of swimming.
“We do not operate as some parents did in years past where they threw their kids out of a boat and told them to swim back to the boat or to shore.
“There are a number of safety mechanisms in place so as not to make learning to swim a traumatic experience for children under our care.
“Again we encourage parents to enroll their children and take advantage of what the program offers in fact, we invite parents to come out and witness for themselves exactly what is going on here in the ‘Learn to Swim’ Program,” Johnson said.
Students participating in the program are graded on their performance, techniques learned and meeting all the requirements of the program before being reward with a certificate, which states they are swimmers.
Studies have shown that children should begin learning to swim at the age of 12 months when they are better able to regulate body temperature and their immune systems are a bit more developed and can fight off possible illness.
Personally for Johnson he has had his son in the pool learning to swim since the age of nine months old and now his son is a competitive swimmers making strides in the local and national swimming circuit.
Johnson also heads a lifeguard training program saying, “I started the program because during holidays instead of me enjoying myself with my family at the beach I have to take on the role of lifeguard.
“Oftentimes parents leave their children unattended in the water as they relax on the shore and while they may assume they are close enough to assist in an emergency situation, I have to come to their aid and rescue kids from near drowning experiences.
“So I have begun a Lifeguard Training Program approximately five years ago and I have reached out to both the City of Freeport Council that is responsible for hiring and stationing lifeguards at beaches across the island especially on holidays and during events held on beaches and Urban Renewal.
“I feel they can provide job opportunities for person certified as lifeguards during such events and under such conditions and the time is now for both entities to work together to do just that.
“In lifeguard training classes my students learning life saving techniques including CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and how to operate an AED (Automated external defibrillator) Kit.
“I have been volunteering my time with both the ‘Learn to Swim’ and Lifeguarding programs and I encourage others to come on-board to learn to swim or become a lifeguard as no one is too old to participate,” said Johnson.
The aquatics director noted that in regards to the AED Kits the government and every business organization should ensure that persons are certified to use them, as it is a lifesaving tool.
In fact, in the United States every police patrol car is outfitted with an AED kit and Johnson said that should be the case here in the Bahamas.
“It is a necessary investment our government should make and training associated with the proper operation of the AED should be mandatory.
“It is time we get serious about learning to swim, lifeguarding, CPR and operating an AED Kit and we need the government to work this in their budget as all these things work in tandem with each other, are lifesaving tools and benefits others in regards to jobs, competitive swimming etc.,” Johnson said.
For further information about the ‘Learn to Swim’ and Lifeguard Programs and other initiatives of Johnson and the YMCA telephone 352-7074/5 or visit www.ymcabahamas.com.