by Dr. Elisabetta Zengaro
Communications Specialist, Division of Community Affairs
Campers demonstrated their skills in swimming, STEM, arts education, physical education and dance during the Swim to the Top final showcase at the Benjamin Barnes Branch YMCA on June 30. Four junior swim instructors were also recognized during the ceremony for their leadership.
“Swim to the Top has been with us for many years, and it has always added that value … children are able to swim or to be comfortable with water safely,” said LaKeda Smith, executive director of the Benjamin Barnes Branch YMCA.
The theme of safety and preparedness also carried through in the STEM enrichment portion as campers learned about severe weather. Younger campers learned how to build boats and buildings to withstand storms, while older campers learned how to code and design apps in age-appropriate STEM activities.
Children received multicultural learning in art education and dance with the theme “Around the World” and performed dance moves inspired by the different cultures they learned about. A few campers dribbled the soccer ball and scored basketball free throws, demonstrating the sports and teamwork skills they learned in the physical education component, before heading over to the Freeman Pool to show their families their new swimming skills.
“She comes home every day excited, and she talks about how she’s gotten comfortable with the water, how she can go all the way in,” said Yanna Johnson, whose daughter participated in Swim to the Top. “I don’t know how to swim personally, so it’s good for her to get comfortable with the water.”
This year, for the first time in program history, YMCA campers were invited to serve as junior swim instructors for the younger groups. They supported the lead swim instructors and helped teach the 4–8-year-olds how to swim. The junior swim instructor program developed as a collaboration among the Tuscaloosa YMCA, the Center for Community-Based Partnerships’ Emerging Community Engagement Scholars Program and Tuscaloosa County Parks and Recreation Authority.
“This is one of the longest-running programs that the Division of Community Affairs has been involved with,” said Dr. Jim McLean, associate vice president for Community Affairs and executive director of the Center for Community-Based Partnerships (CCBP). “It’s great to have a program where the kids love being involved and get to learn a lot of new skills, including skills that are lifesaving in nature.”
Held annually during June, Swim to the Top encourages children 4–14 to excel by teaching them lifesaving skills in water safety and additional skills in STEM enrichment, arts education, physical education and dance for a well-rounded experience. Swim to the Top is led by Dr. Daniela Susnara, director of planning and assessment for community engagement at CCBP.