The reasons a child should learn to swim are many and varied, but they should always be given the chance to learn to swim as a precaution against drowning — one of the most common causes of accidental death. There is also the fact that swimming is fun and provides loads of health benefits. It’s with this premise that husband and wife duo Andy and Nancy Knowles started Let’s Swim Bahamas (LSB), a learn-to-swim program that provides free swim lessons to government primary school students.
The LSB program covers three areas that are all focused on saving youth: teaching and memorizing Bible scripture that changes the hearts of young people; teaching students how to swim, which can save them from drowning, open opportunities for employment involving the water and allow them to personally be able to view the country’s marine life; and teaching them water safety, as learning to swim and water safety go hand-in-hand.
The Knowleses, along with Swim America certified coaches, have been teaching the fundamentals of swimming to primary school students for more than a decade.
“It is our goal for every Bahamian to be able to swim for safety, fitness and fun,” said Knowles, an Olympian and six-time Bahamas Olympic coach certified at level five; his wife is a level two coach with over 35 years of coaching experience.
Since its pilot program in 2008 with Thelma Gibson Primary School, Knowles said they’ve hosted approximately 3,000 children from across 10 government primary schools, with about 30 children having successfully completed the Swim America Award of Achievement Certificate. The certificate requires each student to swim a 300-meter freestyle, 100-meter backstroke and a 100-meter individual medley (IM), showing that they had endurance and could swim all four of the competitive strokes — butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle.
“While 3,000 students may have passed through the program, amounting to approximately 12,000 lessons — 99.9 percent of them come to us afraid and can’t swim,” said Knowles.
In teaching the fundamentals, each student is given eight lessons over a two-week period before the Knowleses move on to the next group of students. The goal isn’t to develop competitive swimmers, but to simply get the first through sixth grade students to be aware of water safety, and comfortable in the water to the point where they can save themselves if the need arises.
With just two weeks to work with each group, Andy Knowles said it’s hard for him to see if there’s talent that could be pursued.
“We’re working with raw skills, but we encourage them to join swim clubs; but there are certain ones I can say one are more natural in the water. But it’s just so at the beginning stage, and we just want to get them to the point where they can save themselves, if they need to, and know how to swim.”
Knowles said his desire to run such a program stems from his pre-teen days, when his dad, Percy Knowles, told him about a group of kids that had drowned on the banks of Spanish Wells in the 1950s, when the tide came in and none of the children knew how to swim.
“This is something that stuck in my mind since I was 12 years old, but it happens all around. Just the other day it was so tragic with the Haitians that drowned. It just makes so much sense to help people swim … it makes me glad,” he said.
Let’s Swim Bahamas does this at cost, kitting out
students with swim gear at the nominal cost of $37 for girls, which includes a swimsuit, goggles and swim cap; and $32 for boys, which includes swim trunks and goggles. All students also receive bags kitted out with water safety books.
Bussing students to the various pool sites for lessons and paying coaches a stipend are the biggest expenses in the program. The Knowleses purchase swim gear in bulk, are able to bring them in duty-free and in turn are able to offer the savings to the parents and children.
Wendy’s, Marco’s Pizza and Popeyes’ commitment to LSB and its future was recently demonstrated by the contribution of 30,000 water safety coloring books and branded pool drawstring bags, as well as classroom posters, at a cost of $30,000.
They utilize the St. Andrew’s School pool for students from Thelma Gibson and Sadie Curtis; and the University of The Bahamas pools for students from Eva Hilton, Woodcock Primary, T. G. Glover, Albury Sayle and Stephen Dillett Primary Schools.
The Lyford Cay International School pool is used for students from Adelaide and Gambier Primary Schools; and the Fox Hill community pool is used for students from Sandilands Primary.
They are hoping to make use of the pool at the Queen Elizabeth Sports Centre for another five schools and the South Beach pools.
“We don’t need to build more pools. We have them,” said Knowles. “We just need to renovate what we have.”
The Knowleses average 130 to 150 children weekly for lessons.
They also take the time to talk to students around the country and have been in approximately 100 schools to talk about water safety and their organization’s mission.
The Knowleses visit the respective schools, where they explain the program to the administrators, drop off registration forms and liability forms for permission to transport students off campus, and return in two weeks to pick up the permission forms; the students then begin lessons.
Reasons to learn to swim include opportunities to attain swimming scholarships to attend college; fitness to help in the fight against obesity; environmental awareness on how to protect and preserve the sea, one of the greatest natural resources; job opportunities; personal safety; and the fact that The Bahamas is an island nation.
Let’s Swim Bahamas, which is in its 11th year, manages the organization and cost of transportation for the children to and from school.
Let’s Swim Bahamas also partnered with Swift Swimming to create a scholarship program to provide reduced cost afterschool and summer swim lessons. Kids Kamps have been conducted on Eleuthera, Abaco and Exuma during the summer months.
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