Water wonderland: Swimming lessons aim to keep area students safe

Manistee Area Public Schools elementary students partake in swimming lessons last week at the Paine Aquatic Center. (Dylan Savela/News Advocate)

Manistee Area Public Schools elementary students partake in swimming lessons last week at the Paine Aquatic Center. (Dylan Savela/News Advocate)

MANISTEE — Among many characteristics unique to Michigan, the state’s abundance of water not only attracts visitors but is very much a part of the quality of life for its residents.

Growing up near these natural resources can certainly enrich a childhood, but safety in and around the water is crucial.

For five years now, elementary students at Manistee Area Public Schools have been provided the tools needed to exist comfortably in these surroundings and safely engage in the joy they have to offer.

This week and last, students across MAPS’ district are taking time in the school day to visit the Paine Aquatic Center for a series of swimming lessons provided by veteran swim coach and United Way executive director Corey Van Fleet, along with his crew of volunteer instructors.

“For the past 50 to 60 years, Michigan has been the second leading state in drownings in the country,” Van Fleet explained, citing Florida as the perennial leader in the statistic. “It comes from having all this water, all this shoreline around us.

“Michigan also has the most boat registrations in the country,” he added. “We live among boats and water, so the idea of this is to keep everyone safe around it.”

Van Fleet, who played an integral role in the creation of the Paine Aquatic Center, always envisioned the facility being used in this educational way.

“It really makes a difference when you teach them young,” he said. “This couples with what the Manistee Recreation Association does with their lesson program, and between the two of us we’re able to reach an awful lot of kids, hopefully to the point where they can handle themselves in the water in case of an emergency.

“By the time they hit third, fourth grade almost all of them can swim.”

This year’s inclusion of MAPS’ kindergarten students extends that reach even further.

The annual program is made possible through a collaborative effort between the United Way and MAPS.

“My instruction time is at the grace of the United Way and we have a lot of volunteers who give their time too,” Van Fleet said, “Of course the school system has provided the transportation and time out of class for the kids.”

The program provides each age group with four days of swimming lessons, each session lasting an hour.

“Basically we’re trying to get them on top of the water, teach them that they can all float on their stomach and on their back,” Van Fleet said. “Eventually we’ll get them swimming on their back and working on their front crawl stroke, helping them get a little more strength and coordinated with their movements.

“Some of the older kids who are more proficient — who have been on the summer swim team and things like that — we’ll have them do more advanced work,” he added. “But, generally, the idea is to get them comfortable and safe around water.”

avatar

Posted by Dylan Savela

Dylan is the county reporter for the News Advocate, he also is in charge of the Small Town Life, religion and senior pages. He can be reached at (231) 398-3111 or dsavela@pioneergroup.com.

Leave a Reply