By Charlotte Francoli, Summer Times Staff Writer
Drowning is one of the leading causes of death for kids under the age of five and still a common killer for adults. Here at Phillips Exeter Academy, many kids learn a lifesaving skill that may prevent them from drowning: swimming.
Kate D’Ambrosio, the aquatic manager at PEA, has been teaching students, young and old, how to swim for 38 years. Recalling the experience of teaching a six month old, Ms. D’Ambrosio noted, “The earlier kids gets into the water, the easier it is. Once they are older you just have to get them past the fear of the unknown.” Indeed, the water can be a very scary environment, especially if you are a beginner.
The difference between adults and kids while learning swimming, is that adults usually seek out swimming lessons on their own will, while kids are signed up by their parents. However, the kids here at Phillips Exeter Academy have undertook the challenge themselves. “That’s half of the battle,” Ms. D’Ambrosio commended.
Many kids haven’t learned to swim yet because they had no access to pools in their younger years, according to Ms. D’Ambrosio. “I grew up with a mother, who happens to be an aquatic director,” Ms. D’Ambrosio explained. “My five brothers and sisters all swim competitively, because we were introduced so early.” There can also be financial restraints, because maintaining a pool or signing up to an aquatic club can get expensive.
However, once new swimmers reach their goal of learning how to swim, the feeling is priceless. “We had a girl this summer that tried to take the swim test but failed it and couldn’t pass it even close,” Ms. D’Ambrosio said. “She then worked so hard and just in a week she passed it. She was so excited it felt for her as if she had won the lottery.” The kids then realize that swimming is not only a fun sport that allows you to participate in activities such as going to the water park or watching a movie by the pool—it is a life skill that might save their lives one day.
The struggle of learning how to swim is very big if it is not something you have grown up with. Especially with the Phillips Exeter Academy pool, beginner swim lessons can be very intimidating as the competitive Roger Nekton Pool has no shallow end. However, Ms. D’Ambrosio expressed optimism for students who overcame this fear and persisted in their quest to learn to swim. “What really excites me is when kids who did the first session of swimming lessons sign up again to continue for these next couple of weeks that we have,” Ms. D’Ambrosio said.
As in any activity, there can sometimes be negative behavior from other kids towards non-swimmers, but for the most part, the atmosphere is overwhelmingly positive. “The kids that I have seen, not only in summer school but also in the regular PEA program, have been phenomenally supportive of each other,” Ms. D’Ambrosio said. “It’s wonderful to see how they are encouraging each other without any judgement from their side.”
At the same time the engagement and enthusiasm of the instructor plays a huge role. They should make it fun just like the aquatic staff of the pool Steve, Sarah and Micheala have. They love what they do, and their biggest thrill is when the kids achieve their goals in swimming.