A new program at the Martinsville-Henry County Family YMCA aims to create more “green” swimmers.
The YMCA’s “Go for Green” initiative is a free program which aims to help children improve their swimming ability by moving them through three levels of competency until they are ready to swim on their own. Associate Director Becky Forestier said the program came about to maximize safety.
“We take aquatic safety very seriously,” she said. “We strive to provide the safest aquatic environment possible.”
That is why every swimmer younger than 14 is tested before going into the pool, Forestier said.
“At that point, they are categorized as either a red, yellow or green level in terms of their swimming ability,” she said.
Red means they are unable to swim unassisted. Yellow signifies moderate ability, and green is advanced. Once a swimmer’s ability is identified, he or she is given an arm band to wear signifying that ability, she added.
“If they are a red band they are required to wear a life vest at all times,” Forestier said. This is especially important for younger swimmers.
“It’s startling, some of the drowning statistics,” she said. “Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for children ages 1 to 4, and the second leading for kids 1-14 years old. We take learning to swim very seriously here.”
Forestier said the Y received a grant from the Martinsville Area Community Foundation last year to buy new life vests. When the staff realized there still was a shortage, the idea was raised to seek a new grant and order more this year.
“For me, the answer wasn’t to get more life vests,” Forestier said. “The answer was to teach these kids how to swim.”
The Y sought a grant to fund the “Go for Green” program but didn’t receive the funds, Forestier said. That left the Y with a choice, she added.
“We either don’t do the program or we find a way to do the program,” she said.
That mostly was a matter of adjusting pool schedules so instructors could be available to give free swimming lessons at different times of day. Each lesson lasts about 15 minutes, and the goal is to change each swimmer’s arm band color.
“It has been extremely successful,” said Pamela Foley, the Y’s aquatics director. “We have had quite a few already achieve getting out of a life vest and getting a green arm band.”
Children who are part of the YMCA’s day camp this summer have the most opportunity to expand their swimming skills, as they are in the pool often during the week. However, any Y member can participate simply by joining the lessons, Foley said.
“The parents have been really excited about it,” she said. “We do it at the pool breaks ... and we also do it in the afternoon as well” for parents who are unable to attend earlier in the day, she said.
Parents are welcome to help their children during the lessons, Foley said, and the lessons are given regardless of the number of kids in the pool at the time.
So far, most of the students have moved from red to yellow “so they can at least take their life jacket off,” she said.
To move from red to yellow, a swimmer has to swim in three to five feet of water from one side of the pool to the other without touching the bottom, Foley said. To move from yellow to green, a swimmer must swim a full lap, then halfway back, tread water for one minute, and then finish the second lap.
“If they have a yellow band, we’re really working with them treading water and making sure they’re above water,” she said, adding that students can keep their heads above water during their laps.
The availability of lessons is paying dividends thus far, Foley said.
“So far, we’ve had 20 to 25 kids who have moved up a color in their band,” she said. “For the most part, (they’ve been) between 8 and 10 (years old).”
For more information on the “Go for Green” program, call 632-6427.