By: Ashley Berrones
The blow of a whistle signals the end of swimming class for a group of students in the water at the HCISD Aquatic Center. Another group of second-graders, ready in their swimming attire, waits at one side of the pool to be called next.
At HCISD, becoming a second-grader means being able to take part in the SEAL (Safely Educating Aquatic Learners) program. All second-grade students have an opportunity to attend eight, 30-minute swimming lessons to learn the basics of swimming and water safety.
“We have so much water in the Valley such as pools, the island, and canals,” Aquatic Facility Specialist Yvonne Moran said. “So, learning water safety is very important for the kids especially at a very young age. Being able to provide this opportunity for the kids through school is a great experience.”
The SEAL program began during the 2014-2015 school year with a goal to provide vital aquatic skills that could potentially save a life.
“My favorite part of the program is that they teach the kids survival skills,” Treasure Hills Elementary second-grade teacher Cassie Blackburn said. “They learn how to float with a life jacket, how to jump in with a life jacket on, and how to put on a life jacket. Living by all the water that we do, I think that kids need to know those survival skills, not just learn how to swim. To me that is one of the most important parts of the entire program.”
The classes are taught by certified aquatic professionals and are monitored by Red Cross First Aid Certified lifeguards.
“If you are in the ocean, you need to make sure that you know how to swim so that you can go in, “Treasure Hills Elementary second-grader Penelope Salinas said. “What if you go in and something happens?”
Throughout their eight sessions students will learn how to float on their front and their back, move their arms and legs, take a breath, and be safe in and around water.
“It’s hard when you’re learning how to control your legs and your body sometimes, but it’s pretty fun,” Treasure Hills Elementary second-grader Colton Chapa said. “It’s like trying to catch fish. It’s a little bit hard, but I am not going to give up.”
HCISD Health and Safety protocols have been implemented in the aquatic center to provide a safe and secure learning environment for all children.
Each second-grade class that visits the aquatic center for the SEAL program is separated into smaller groups prior to entering the pool. These groups are then assigned to a swimming instructor who guides, one student at a time, into the water to practice the daily lessons.
“We have the kids keep their distance outside of the water, and our instructors wear face shields,” Moran said. “Our kids keep their facemasks in Ziplock bags while in the water.”
Cubbies, dividers made of PVC pipes, are used by the side of the pool and in the locker rooms to help students keep their distance.
Every second-grade classroom throughout the district has a designated time to visit the aquatic center for lessons.