Richmond, VA (RVA), hit another milestone this past week in aquatic safety and general health and fitness. Our city has been ranked in several listings as one of the healthiest places in the United States to live. The Learn-to-Swim program, which is community-based and cost-free, plays a role in this. It not only provides students with water safety skills, but it also gives these students the tools to be active, healthy, and fit for the rest of their lives.
Since 2012, a rising number of second graders across RVA have taken part in the Learn-to-Swim program. The YMCA and SwimRVA have developed partnerships with eight jurisdictions in the capital region. The City of Richmond, Chesterfield County, the City of Petersburg, the City of Colonial Heights, Hanover County, Goochland County, Powhatan County and the City of Hopewell have all adopted swimming as part of their second grade curriculum. The
program provides transportation, lifeguards, swim coaches, swim caps, and a station-based curriculum aimed at teaching students swimming skills, as well as how to build the self-confidence that will enable them to succeed in the classroom and in life.
This September, Hanover County Public School system began its journey and collaboration with Mechanicsville Elementary School. This is the first school in Hanover County to take the dive in aquatic safety and wellness, bringing aquatic access to over 100 students and excited to expand to more elementary schools later this year.
SwimRVA’s Executive Director, Adam Kennedy, stated that “This is a huge step forward in bringing aquatic access to every second grader in the region. We hope to continue to grow, develop this partnership and expand this program to every elementary school in Hanover County. The collaboration between the County, the school board, the administration of Mechanicsville Elementary, and the Mechanicsville Recreation Association has been phenomenal.”
With Mechanicsville Elementary School in the fold, Richmond now has 57 participating schools in the Learn-to-Swim program. Community partnerships between local officials, counties, and public schools have made aquatics more accessible in the greater Richmond region. Mechanicsville Recreation Center is the newest location for swim lessons. Students bus to the site and use the local facility. The location is a launching point for programming, similar to several YMCAs in the region, Virginia State University, which serves roughly 380 area students each year; Hopewell Community Center, which serves nearly 350 area students each school year; and the Collegiate School Aquatics Center, which serves around 860 students each school year.
“The instructors have made great relationships with the kids. It has been so well organized and has been so easy for us, and the kids have been so engaged. We are extremely excited about this collaboration with SwimRVA and the county. It has just been great,” said the principal of Mechanicsville Elementary School, Dr. Amy Robinson. We were also able to get an interview with a couple of the teachers who shared their insights into the program. They agreed that “We have built community in the classrooms and built better relationships with the kids because we get to see them outside of the classroom in a fun and organized environment.”
Aquatic development is continuing its upward trend in Richmond: since beginning the program in 2012, over 44,200 free swim lessons have been given by SwimRVA. With every new step in the direction of aquatic growth comes more access. A program that initially served elementary schools has now expanded to middle and high schools. As a community, the Richmond region is becoming a safer, more active, and more prosperous place in which to live, work, and play.