Swim To the Top Participants Recognized in Showcase Celebration

  • July 5th, 2022
  • in CCBP

by Dr. Elisabetta Zengaro
Communications Specialist, Division of Community Affairs

Approximately 160 children gathered in the Benjamin Barnes YMCA gymnasium to demonstrate what they learned from Swim to the Top during a final showcase on July 1. The program, now in its ninth year, is led by Dr. Daniela Susnara, director of planning and assessment for community engagement.

To start, the campers performed a choreographed dance routine learned in the arts education component. Afterward, the children grabbed their swimsuits and headed to the Freeman Pool to show off their swimming skills during the latter part of the celebration. Pictures of the campers’ STEM experiments and volleyball lessons were also on display for parents.

“I like this initiative to teach them how to swim because that will stop a lot of these children, and some others perhaps, from drowning and having a fear of water,” said Lois Lewis, as she watched her grandson swim across the pool.

Held annually during June, Swim to the Top encourages children to reach the “top” in all aspects of life through additional learning in STEM enrichment, arts education, and physical education for children 4–14.

“They really are enthusiastic about learning about science in a hands-on setting,” said Rachel Hill, one of the program’s STEM instructors. “They need to be exposed to STEM opportunities because there are STEM jobs everywhere, and if we can spark an interest while they’re young, who knows where it will take them in the future.”

This year’s STEM enrichment focused on environmental awareness. For one experiment, children learned about oil spill cleanups and how to research with computers. Additionally, campers strengthened their sportsmanship and teamwork abilities in the PE sessions, learning volleyball and tennis.

New this year was an arts education component in which campers learned how to express their creativity through drawing, music and dance, giving them a well-rounded experience¬¬.

“Swim to the Top added so much value to the campers’ experience,” said LaKeda Smith, executive director of the Benjamin Barnes YMCA. “They take a holistic approach to helping us equip the children.”

“The best part about this is what the kids accomplish through collaboration,” added Jeff Knox, CEO, Tuscaloosa County YMCA.

This was the first year Swim to the Top collaborated with UA Swimming and Diving. Some of the coaches and athletes provided swim instruction, and the campers toured the UA Aquatic Center to learn about the competitive side of swimming.

“I think that it shows you ... the value of sport is so big and that goes so much beyond results and SEC titles and similar rankings, so I think for the staff, for our team, to see that they can make a real big impact in the community just by teaching these skills is huge, but also [as] just another positive role model for these kids,” said Roman Willets, assistant coach for UA Swimming and Diving.

George Stewart, Tuscaloosa native and playwright who attended the showcase, remarked on the importance of these partnerships in empowering youth.

“I’m originally from Tuscaloosa, so I’ve been in this pool before when I was a kid over at the Y … so, to see it still alive is a wonderful thing,” said Stewart. “I think this is a wonderful opportunity to introduce the young people to swimming, but also the effort that people care. That doesn’t click right now with them, but when they look back on it, they’ll understand that somebody cared enough to give them something that they didn’t know they needed, and they had fun doing it.”