Upon arrival at Samara Community School in the West Farms section of the Bronx on Friday mornings, the kindergartners cheekily demand proof that their teachers and principal are wearing swimsuits. “We lift our shirts and show them,” says teacher Janira Gonzalez, the school’s chapter leader. “Then they show us that they are wearing theirs. It makes them laugh.”
To the grown-ups, swim day is serious stuff. Having students learn to swim is a foundation of this Spanish/English dual language school that opened in September and will add a grade each year through 5th grade. Each student will begin lessons in kindergarten and continue to swim every year until graduation.
“Most of our kids have no access to pools so they don’t learn to swim,” says Principal Danielle Derrig. “Often, their parents don’t swim either. So this is an amazing opportunity.”
Derrig and the kindergarten teachers have been taking the 50 little ones for weekly one-hour lessons at the indoor pool at the Harlem YMCA. Toting towels, swim caps and courage, the students are bused to the center, about 20 minutes away.
Certainly, teaching the children to swim is a lifelong safety precaution and great exercise. But the teachers witness in their charges something extra: a joy that arises from mastering a hard-earned skill.
“They start off clingy and needy and terrified,” says Gonzalez. “As time goes on, their coordination and confidence grow. It makes them so proud.”
Swim time is nothing short of miraculous to the kids, beginning with the unbelievable sight of their teachers and principal jumping in the pool with them.
“They get right in there,” says Tracy Persaud, a parent volunteer. “I would be like, ‘That water is cold. I’ll watch and wave from the sidelines.’”
Persaud’s son Aidan Garcia has learned to swim, though he prefers a more precise definition of his achievement. “I don’t just swim,” says the 5-year-old. “I swim under the water!”