TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Program participants and University and local officials will celebrate Swim to the Top, a four-week program designed to save lives and improve the health of at-risk children and youth aged 4 to 14 at a luncheon Thursday, June 25, beginning at 11:30 a.m. at the Benjamin Barnes Branch YMCA, 2939 18th St.
Since June 1, students have participated in supervised activities from 8:30 a.m. to noon Monday – Thursday at the Benjamin Barnes and A.L. Freeman pools. Each day, UA student swim instructors work with just four to five participants at a time to ensure personal attention and quality instruction. In addition to swimming, participants also engage in fitness exercises, receive diet information, and play games to improve agility, cardiorespiratory endurance, balance, muscular strength and endurance, coordination and flexibility. Each day’s activities begin with a healthy breakfast.
In its second year, the program is a collaborative effort of the Benjamin Barnes Branch of the YMCA, the Tuscaloosa PARA, and the UA Division of Community Affairs. Carol Agomo of UA’s Division of Community Affairs served as program director. She praised Swim to the Top’s results and said plans are under way to offer the program again next year. “We do believe our collective efforts will lead to students who are more comfortable in the water and are more aware and knowledgeable of the importance of nutrition and physical activities in their lives,” Agomo said.
Alarming statistics support Agomo’s statement: One out of five drowning victims are under 14; more than half of African-American and Hispanic children cannot swim; swimming lessons for children can reduce their risk of drowning by 88 percent; the U.S. averages 10 drownings daily; black children are 3 times as likely to drown as white children.
The need to combine health and fitness lessons with swimming lessons is borne out by the fact that almost 32% of children/youth 2–19 are overweight or obese, rates that are highest among African-Americans and Hispanics.
Mark Harrison, PARA program supervisor, underscored the importance of learning to swim, calling it a “life skill as well as a skill that will enhance one’s quality of life. We are also excited because of the potential for this program to provide us with qualified swimming personnel and lifeguards.” At the June 25 luncheon, session leaders from the various components of Swim to the Top will recognize the participating students and their families and program team members.
Members of the swim team are Zachary Alexander-Wahl, Ben Schwamberger, Madison Eads, Allison Freeman, Caitlyn Freeman, Teresita Gill, Joshua Harper, Jennifer Jensen, Carrington Rye and Jarod Stephenson.
Other instructors and facilitators include: Lakeda Smith, Curtis Pickard, LaChanda Wallace and Brandon McAway (administrative team); Mishon Flanigan, Julia Sanders, Antonio Gardner, Douglas Craddock, Myria Lang and Chelsea Sheffield (enrichment and nutrition team); Dr. Jermaine Mitchell, Stefan Casale and Scott Clements, (fitness team).
Zachary Wahl-Alexander, a graduate student in kinesiology and campus leader in community engagement, is credited with the initial planning that resulted in the program.
A number of local and university officials are expected to attend the luncheon.