For the past two years, the Fort Worth Mobile Recreation Program and TCU swimming and diving coach Richard Sybesma have teamed up to teach children to swim during a six-week course at Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center.
Nearly 300 children from four programs in the Fort Worth school district swim in 35-45-minute increments twice a week under the direction of Sybesma and his crew.
“Every day these instructors in this program are helping these kids with a lifelong skill they can use,” Sybesma said. “Seeing them learn and seeing them swim, it’s pretty heartwarming, because this is an opportunity they wouldn’t normally get.”
Children from Daggett Elementary, George C. Clark Elementary, Rosemont Middle and Seminary Hills Park Elementary participate in the program.
“It means a lot. It’s nice to see the young adults giving back to the community,” said Whitney Peavy, a seventh- and eighth-grade teacher at Rosemont.
More than 30 youngsters participate in each lesson and are under the supervision of nine instructors, four lifeguards and three supervisors in what Sybesma calls “a very safe environment.”
Sybesma and his staff try to teach the basics, which include good form, different strokes, kicking of the feet, breathing exercises and floating.
Each group is handed off to a specific instructor. One side of the pool will have youngsters who are learning to swim; the other side will have youngsters who know how to swim and are trying to swim across the 50-meter pool.
Sandra Medina, who helps run the program for Fort Worth Parks and Community Services, had tried to get a swim program for three or four years.
“I believe we are making such a huge impact on the lives of the children who are participating in our program,” Medina said. “They will have more confidence as they enter the water and can apply the skills they have learned when they are with their families in a recreational setting.”
Sybesma also teaches a program at TCU. Most of the lifeguards and instructors helping the kids were taught to swim from Sybesma when they were kids in his program.
One of those kids, Viktoria Taskov of Crowley, is now an 18-year-old instructor.
“A lot of us teach lessons at TCU with Richard, but it’s different. The atmospheres are different because the parents pay for the TCU one, so the kids have to go, but here the kids come willingly,” Taskov said. “They’re more ready to go and have fun, and it’s also rewarding for the instructors because we get more out of it.”
Taskov is in her second year helping with the program, the same for 17-year-old Christina Mihova of Fort Worth.
“I love helping these kids. It’s a very rewarding program and the kids are so willing to do it,” Mihova said. “A while ago, one of my neighbors drowned in a pool, so to come out here, it makes me feel better that I get to teach these kids and give back.”
A lot of the kids are excited to jump into the water, smiling and laughing as they try to improve their swimming skills. That includes 10-year-olds Jaden Brown and Daniel Munoz from George C. Clark Elementary.
“It helps us to swim and when we go out to swim on our own, we know how not to drown,” said Daniel, who loves to do the backstroke and freestyle.
“It’s awesome. Getting to learn so much, it’s really cool to have the opportunity to do so,” said Jaden, who loves the freestyle.
Medina said she, Sybesma and others will continue to fight to keep the program.
“We always fight to keep funding every year. I hope the people and community will understand how important each program is,” Medina said. “We have parents that have said they are grateful we have this program for the kids and, of course, we have parents that ask if we can take more kids in.”
The lessons are funded by the Rainwater Foundation.
Texas ranks high nationally in child drownings, something Sybesma and Medina want to stop.
“It really does take us all to keep our children safe in the school year,” Medina said, “but we must continue to keep them engaged and safe during the summer months.”