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Gainesville Middle School uses aquatic center to give swimming lessons
Gainesville Middle School student Sergio Mondragon pushes off from the edge of the pool at the Frances Meadows center with the help of instructor Cathleen Rabe. - photo by Tom Reed

Nearly 40 people drowned in Georgia waters so far this year, but new swim classes at Gainesville Middle School aim to teach students skills that some day could save their lives.

Kim Stephens, physical education teacher at Gainesville Middle, said the school is taking advantage of its new proximity to the Frances Meadows Aquatic and Community Center by partnering with the center to provide swimming lessons to all sixth-graders. Classes started Monday afternoon.

She said too often students think they can swim, but can’t.

"Too many drownings are happening on our lake," she said. "So hopefully the more children we teach to swim, the less drownings we’ll have on the lake."

Jone Taylor, recreation division manager at the Frances Meadows center, said 60 students at a time are taught in the swim classes that last two weeks. Of this week’s batch of 60 students, only five knew how to swim prior to swim class, she said.

"A lot of it is cultural. A lot of it is economic," she said of why some sixth-graders don’t know how to swim.

Taylor said American Red Cross certified water safety instructors will teach about 400 Gainesville Middle students to swim each year.

Students will learn swimming techniques based on the Red Cross’ six levels of water safety. Those who already know how to swim will learn new strokes or diving skills.

"Of course we want them to learn the proper strokes, but we also want them to learn survivor skills and how to be able to roll over and float and get to the side," Taylor said. "So many people drown in four feet or less of water because they panic."

Stephens said Fair Street IB World School offered swimming lessons at the Fair Street pool several years ago. But the pool closed and swimming lessons were suspended until the program was restarted this year at Gainesville Middle.

In addition to helping students have safe and fun summers, Stephens said she hopes to help students discover a new passion in the pool.

"It’s also just another physical activity they can do the rest of their life," she said. "Because they may not like soccer. They may not like football."