A Gulf Coast-led initiative that offers free swimming lessons to every second-grader in Sarasota County public schools helped students “significantly” improve their water-safety skills, according to an evaluation during the 2015-16 school year.
What’s more, a survey of their teachers found near universal improvement in students’ listening skills as well as a significant sense of accomplishment among students after participating in the lessons. More than 2,350 Sarasota County students took part in the Kids SWIM (Safe Water Instruction Matters) program last year, which is made possible through a collaboration of Gulf Coast donors, including Keith and Linda Monda; several community organizations; and the Sarasota County school district.
“The results are not surprising to those of us who have observed the lessons and really point to the powerful effect this program has on our children,” said Laura Kingsley, executive director of elementary education for Sarasota County Schools. “We are indebted to the Mondas and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation for caring so deeply about the safety and well-being of every child in our community.”
Free Water-Safety Lessons
Through Kids SWIM, second-grade classes are able to participate in a week’s worth of free water-safety lessons during the school year. The lessons are led by certified aquatics instructors and offered at several area pools, to and from which transportation is provided. According to a pre-assessment of students who participated last year, 60% of them were identified as non-swimmers. These students could not demonstrate a majority of nine basic water-safety skills without assistance. Overall, students improved an average of 21% over the course of their lessons, according to a post-assessment. For students identified as non-swimmers at the start of the program, the rate of improvement was 42%.
Overall, students improved an average of 21% over the course of their lessons. For students identified as non-swimmers...the rate of improvement was 42%.
Students showed the greatest improvements in rolling back to front, recovering from a prone position, and holding their faces in the water. “These fundamental skills can make a life-saving difference for a child who is unfamiliar with the water,” said Veronica Brady, senior vice president for philanthropy at Gulf Coast, who helped launch the program in 2013 with funding from the Mondas.
A survey of teachers showed further evidence of the program’s effects. Every teacher said that the program had a moderate or major impact on their students’ water-safety skills. In addition, 89% of teachers reported that the program had a moderate or major impact on the students’ listening skills, while 90% reported seeing a sense of accomplishment and improved confidence in a lot or many students after the lessons. Overall, 91% of teachers feel the program is extremely beneficial for students.
The evaluation was commissioned by Gulf Coast Community Foundation to assess the impact of the three-year-old Kids SWIM initiative and, if it proved successful, identify key elements for replication elsewhere. According to the evaluation, the program’s large scope—offering every second-grader across the school district the opportunity to learn to swim—and its broad partnership are among the keys to its success. Community organizations note that Kids SWIM has enabled them to reach children who could not otherwise afford or travel to swimming lessons. They also have been able to reach out to families whom they might not otherwise engage, and now are able to offer ongoing swimming lessons over the summer through other funding sources.
The partnership behind the program, meanwhile, leverages each partner’s contribution to make a greater collective impact. The school district, community organizations such as local YMCAs and Girls Inc. of Sarasota County, and the foundation and its donors all commit resources to the program. The school district, for example, provides the time to promote and coordinate the program, while community partners provide the operational cost of their facilities. Philanthropic funding from Gulf Coast—primarily through gifts from Keith and Linda Monda—pays for transportation and instructor time. The foundation also provides fiscal management and coordination of the effort.
“These fundamental skills can make a life-saving difference for a child who is unfamiliar with the water.”
“Four years ago, we reached 445 students with swimming lessons,” commented Brady. “Last year, we reached nearly 2,400 Sarasota County students, and the program was expanded to Charlotte County too, where another 800 students participated. Clearly, this model is working, and our community’s children will be safer because of that.”
To view the 2015-16 independent evaluation of the Kids SWIM initiative, go here.