STUDENTS GO OFF THE DEEP END AT THE Y

y-swimmers11Swimming lessons for borough third-graders were offered as part of a larger program to expand the Community YMCA’s public outreach. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Here’s a stat you might think unlikely for a riverside town like Red Bank, just a short drive from the beach: 95 percent of third-grade students in its charter and primary schools did not know how to swim, according to the Community YMCA.

That began to change over the past month.

On Thursday, the Y held the last of a series of free, month-long swimming lessons for all borough third-graders. And what a difference that month made.

“The first week, everybody was very tense. We had to hold some kids’ hands. A couple of the kids in level one would hold on for dear life,” said Rebecca Rivera, the Y’s safety coordinator. “And now they’re jumping right in.”

All 120 students enrolled in the Y’s program — part of a larger public outreach by the Maple Avenue organization — are now 100-percent water safe, meaning they can get in and out of the water with no problem, Rivera said. Others have swum on to higher proficiencies, she said.

“It’s gone really, really well,” said Andrea Plaza, the Y’s vice president for family health. “The smiles on their faces, it’s just wonderful, and to see the kind of self-confidence kids develop from learning to swim on their own.”

With the program’s success, which was supported by “many generous donors,” Plaza said the Y hopes it can continue the swimming program into the future.

“We’re very committed to the program and we’d very much like to continue to offer it,” she said.

The swimming lessons, which were held during school hours, aren’t over for the year, though.

Before the Y gets going on another phase of its $1.5 million renovation project that’s expected to briefly shut down the pool in August, the organization is hosting a Learn To Swim Week, open to all Red Bank residents and is available at a reduced rate. The lessons run from June 20 to 24.

Late last year, the Y launched a Healthy Kids Membership, giving all borough students through eighth grade free membership.