Category: Swim to the Top

Showcase Event Concludes Sixth Annual Swim to the Top Program

[envira-gallery id=”9396″]

By Sophia Xiong
CCBP Graduate Assistant

Swim to the Top, a program of the Center for Community-Based Partnerships (CCBP), concluded its 2019 activities with a showcase event at the Benjamin Barnes Branch YMCA on Thursday, June 27.

LaKeda Smith, executive director of the Benjamin Barnes YMCA, welcomed participants and thanked her staff and the University staff for another successful Swim to the Top year.

Delivering brief opening remarks were Mark Harrison, Tuscaloosa County Parks and Recreation Authority (PARA) program supervisor; Ashley Javine, Barnes YMCA program director; and Andrea Ziegler, CCBP director for community education.

Despite a day of intermittent thunderstorms, attendees were in a joyful mood. The showcase room was decorated in blue and white balloons, participants feasted on Chick-fil-A chicken nuggets, fruit and drinks. A “wall of fame” entrance to the room was displayed with photos of the students going through their swimming lessons.

Swim to the Top, now in its sixth year, is a collaboration of The University of Alabama, PARA,

Barnes branch of the YMCA, and The First Tee, a youth development program that teaches life values through the game of golf. Students, ages 4 to 14, not only take swimming lessons but also learn about nutrition through hands-on science projects and participate in daily physical education.

Research shows that swim lessons can greatly reduce the risk of drowning. Dr. Matthew Curtner-Smith, professor of sport pedagogy in the Department of Kinesiology at UA, speaking at the final showcase, said Alabama has one of the highest drowning rates in the nation. “By launching this program, we hope we can save some lives,” he said.

Learning to swim is not easy, the instructors said. It all starts with the most important lesson: overcoming the fear of water. Victor Montano-Cruz was one of the UA student swim instructors who helped children overcome their fears of water and gain confidence in swimming “It was a lot of work to get them to trust me,” he said. “First, get them into the water, then get them on the water, then swim.”

Not only did the students enjoy themselves at Swim to the Top, but they also formed strong relationships with their teachers. Many children said their goodbyes to their teachers with big hugs. Montano-Cruz said this class of kids got close to their instructors. “What makes the relationship so strong,” he said, “is helping them overcome their fear.” Montanzo-Cruz was also impressed with the meaningful peer relationships that developed.

Dr. Samory Pruitt, vice president for Community Affairs, gave closing remarks, thanking students, parents and members of the CCBP staff for the Swim to the Top tradition. “I can’t say enough thanks to the parents,” he said. “We appreciate the opportunity you give us to work with your young people.”


UA’s CCBP and Barnes YMCA Celebrate Another Successful Swim to the Top Partnership

[envira-gallery id=”7271″]

By Yiben Liu
CCBP Graduate Assistant

About 150 children, parents, teachers and local officials celebrated the success of the four-week Swim to the Top swimming program at a showcase event Thursday, June 29 at the Benjamin Barnes Branch YMCA. The program is led by Dr. Holly Morgan, Community Education director of the Center for Community-Based Partnerships (CCBP), an initiative of the Division of Community Affairs.

Greeted by white and blue balloons symbolizing the sea and beach, these summer campers ages 4-14 were recognized for their achievements. Attendees enjoyed a meal, sponsored by Chick-fil-a Northport, of bread, fried chicken, fruit, rolls and a home-made cake emblazoned with the program’s sea-turtle logo.

In its fourth year, Swim to the Top is a swim training and survival program designed to save lives of at-risk children and youth. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were more than 3,500 drownings annually from 2005 to 2014. About one in five were children aged 14 and younger. This year, Swim to the Top program was a collaborative effort among Center for Community Based Partnerships (CCBP), Benjamin Barnes Branch of the YMCA, Tuscaloosa Park and Recreation Authority (PARA) and UA’s department of kinesiology.

The swim-safety program received prominent local television coverage during this year’s sessions, as well as a follow-up interview of its leaders by Fox 6 News after a near drowning over the pre-July 4th weekend in Blount County. Fortunately, the child survived, but the incident served to emphasize the importance of partnerships like that of the University and Barnes YMCA.

In addition to swimming lessons, participants were taught leadership development, nutrition education, fitness training and academic enrichment. And each Thursday, they took golf lessons with the assistance of members from Tuscaloosa’s First Tee nonprofit. Lessons in putting, chipping, pitching and full swings were taught in the gymnasium using modified clubs and tennis balls in lieu of golf balls.

On Thursday June 15, students conducted a special science experiment called the egg-drop challenge. Children were challenged to find effective ways to wrap eggs to help them survive an approximately 8-foot drop. The teacher then dropped the eggs to test their ideas. The aim of the experiment was to give the students some basic cognitions of physical rules such as gravity and packaging.

At the final showcase, Benjamin Barnes YMCA Youth Programs Director Laura Payton gave the welcome and thanked parents for their trust in allowing their children to participate.

Tuscaloosa County PARA Program Supervisor Mark Harrison pointed out that the program not only provides life-saving skills but also leadership that will be useful to the youngsters when they occupy responsible positions as adults. He said the PARA junior lifeguard program always welcomes advanced swimmers. “We’ve got the position for you,” he said.

UA kinesiology professor Dr. Matthew Curtner-Smith noted another important aspect of the program: Research shows that more physically active children perform higher academically and their psychological satisfaction is higher than inactive children. He also urged the parents to keep their children active after the program, both in swimming and other sports.

Dr. Morgan thanked all the people in the room for helping to build the “community” that makes who everyone is. “We appreciate and are honored that we have gotten the chance to make memories with you this summer,” she said.

She also announced that the program was granted six scholarships from the Tuscaloosa’s First Tee worth $2,500 each in First Tee instruction. The first scholarship was issued to Swim to the Top participant Blake Easterwood, who also gave the invocation before dinner.

During dinner, attendees enjoyed a special step show presentation led by Swim to the Top physical fitness instructor Bernel Jones and members of Omega Psi Phi.

After the dinner, UA swim leader Jenni Jensen and fitness leader Colin Pennington, Tuscaloosa County Schools enrichment leaders Mishon Flanigan and Julia Sanders gave short talks on behalf of the instructors and teachers. They reviewed the lessons learned, recognized students’ achievements and thanked supporters.

“This year has been incredible,” said Jenni Jensen, a PE teacher and a former UA student. “We were extremely well organized. The kids came ready to swim.” According to Jensen, now in her fourth year with the program, many participants have come every year and showed great improvement. She said she and the team of nine other instructors — all UA students majoring in kinesiology or sports pedagogy — were thrilled to see the children “exceed expectations.”

“On the first day they screamed and ran away from the water, and today we are able to see them floating by themselves, swimming with noodles on their own, no need to hold onto anybody, jumping in off the side,” Jensen proudly listed the skills her students had gained. “There is a complete 180 change, and it wouldn’t have happened without this program,” she said.

Lazhaiva Lyles, 9, said she had joined the program every year and will come back next year. “I’ve learned how to dive in a pool, how to float on my back and front,” she said. “It’s fun!” Her friends gathered around her and cheered when she was talking.

Dr. Samory Pruitt, vice president of UA’s Division of Community Affairs gave the closing remarks and thanked participants and leaders. “This program just keeps getting better every year and I look forward to seeing how these great program leaders and teachers will make it even better next year.”

Barnes YMCA Campers Celebrate New Skills, Achievements at Swim to the Top Luncheon

[envira-gallery id=”6350″]

Photos by Fuyan Zhang
CCBP Student Assistant

Special to CCBP
By Lucinda Coulter

Bright blue beach balls and T-shirts emblazoned with sea-turtle logos greeted 120 summer campers Thursday, June 30 as they filed into the Barnes YMCA gymnasium. A lunch of hot, boxed pizzas and praise for their hard work awaited them.

Children ages 4–14 and their instructors were gathered to celebrate the end of a four-week enrichment program, Swim to the Top, sponsored by the University of Alabama’s Division of Community Affairs.

Earlier that morning, the campers finished swim lessons, math and reading, and golf and other fitness activities. The initiative is offered to children of families enrolled at the Benjamin Barnes Branch YMCA in west Tuscaloosa. Now in its third year, Swim to the Top is a partnership created by the University, Tuscaloosa city and county schools, Tuscaloosa County Parks and Recreation Authority, and the Barnes Y.

At the closing ceremony, instructors praised the young audience seated at large cloth-covered tables and reviewed skills the children had learned in the program.

“I’ve seen you guys blossom like flowers,” Swim to the Top director Dr. Rosianna Gray of UA’s Center for Community-Based Partnerships told the campers. She thanked partners for their contributions and enthusiasm. “We’ve learned right along with the children,” she said.

UA swim team member and Swim to the Top instructor Abigail Greenwalt discusses swim safety with her group.


Dr. Samory T. Pruitt, Community Affairs vice president, described Swim to the Top as “an excellent example” of campus-community cooperation. “It shows what we can do when we pool — no pun intended — our human and physical resources.”

Instructors emphasized fun, cooperation and orderly conduct as they taught water safety, good health practices and other activities. For swim lessons, camp counselors accompanied children to the A.L. Freeman pool and park across the street from Benjamin Barnes.

Kaleum Robinson, 6, said that he hopes to repeat swim lessons next summer. He was proud of his accomplishments. “I floated on my stomach and my back,” he said, standing up straight near the pool after swim lessons as his buddies gathered closely round him.

At the luncheon, lead swim instructor Jenna Starck lauded 4–6 year-old campers for listening to instruction, 7–9 year-olds for emerging leadership skills and 10–14 year-olds for their willingness to learn.

“We saw such great improvement in you,” said Starck, a doctoral student in sports pedagogy at UA. “We hope to see you all next year.”

She said that she and the team of nine swim instructors — all UA students majoring in kinesiology or sports pedagogy — were happy to see children’s attitudes change from one of fear to excitement.

“Kids have gone from crying and being afraid to climb in the pool on the first day to, now, showing you their tricks and going under water,” Starck said. Campers were taught water safety tips such as extending flotation devices to swimmers who are struggling, and entering the water only if lifeguards are present.

Mark Harrison, PARA aquatic director, supervises the lifeguards for swim lessons. He attributed the program’s success to partner collaboration: “It’s been very rewarding,” he said.

Douglas Craddock agreed with Starck and Harrison. A UA doctoral candidate in higher education administration, Craddock has worked in the program since its start three years ago. This year he assisted with academic enrichment and led the fitness team. He was especially pleased to see that a number of kids in last year’s program returned for another year.

“The work we’re doing is making a difference,” said Craddock, seated on gym bleachers and supervising campers running an obstacle course. “They are maturing and their cooperation has improved.”

The best part of the closing luncheon for this group was the pizza.

As he spoke, kids in the 7–9 year-old group played volleyball and dodge ball and hula-hooped in sync in various parts of the gym. “We try to incorporate sports they’re not accustomed to,” Craddock said. “Exposure to small things can lead to exposure to bigger things in the future.”

Teaching the children the importance of exercise for cardiovascular health and good nutrition are key parts of the fitness segment, according to the instructors.

Campers played golf on Thursdays with the assistance of members from Tuscaloosa’s First Tee nonprofit. Lessons in putting, chipping, pitching and full swings were taught in the gymnasium using modified clubs and tennis balls in lieu of golf balls. Thursday morning before the program’s close, about 50 children played snag baseball (a form of baseball using golf clubs to develop proper swings) on the Barnes field behind the gym. PARA golf coach Andy Smelley and 11 instructors organized the game while Barnes youth counselors supervised players. “Golf is one of the many ways to broaden their horizons,” Smelley said.

Scholastic endeavors helped kids stay cool indoors. Two days before the program’s end, Mishon Flanigan coordinated a team of children to build bridges and towers with foam cups. Flanigan, a second-grade teacher at Crestmont Elementary School, and Julia Sanders, who teaches at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, introduced the children to math and science activities that also strengthened their skills in collaboration and planning.

As some children stood on chairs to place, delicately, the pinnacle cup on top, other team members held their breath in anticipation. The Children’s Resource Center was filled with delighted shrieks or disappointed moans as foam towers stood or came crashing down.

“These kids came in every day eager to learn,” Flanigan said. “Their eagerness was inspiring, and that gives us a way to bring academics to the table. Hands-on projects work.”

Former UA kinesiology graduate student Zachary Wahl-Alexander started Swim to the Top. The program has specific implications for African-American children. Swimming pool drowning rates among blacks aged 5–19 years are 5.5 times higher than those among whites in the same age group, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 70 percent of African-American children are unable to swim, according to a 2012 survey by the USA Swimming Foundation.

Benjamin Barnes Executive Director LaKeda Smith thanked the more than 35 instructors, volunteers and partners who helped in the four-week outreach. “I’m glad to know you are comfortable swimming now,” Smith told the youth. “We are so thankful for the program’s growth and look forward to it continuing next year.”

Before a din of excited voices rose as volunteers doled out beach balls and T-shirts at the June 30 closing program, Smith ended her remarks with “Have a blessed day,” which seemed to be every day for kids in Swim to the Top.

Lucinda Coulter serves on the Benjamin Barnes YMCA Branch Advisory Council as recording secretary and on the YMCA of Tuscaloosa County Board of Directors. She is a former UA and Stillman College journalism faculty member.

Swim to the Top Participants to Be Recognized at Closing Program

[envira-gallery id=”6325″]

Photos by Fuyan Zhang
CCBP Student Assistant

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Participants ages 4 to 14 and University of Alabama and local officials will celebrate Swim to the Top, a four-week program designed to save lives and improve the health of at-risk children and youth, at a luncheon Thursday, June 30, at 11:30 a.m. at the Benjamin Barnes Branch YMCA.

Each UA student swim instructor works with only four or five participants at a time to ensure personal attention and quality instruction. In addition to swimming, participants also engage in fitness exercises, receive diet information, and play games to improve agility, cardiorespiratory endurance, balance, muscular strength and endurance, coordination and flexibility. Beginning last year, the students were also exposed to the game of golf through the participation of the First Tee of Tuscaloosa.

In its third year, the program is a collaborative effort of the Benjamin Barnes Branch of the YMCA, Tuscaloosa Park and Recreation Authority (PARA), UA’s department of kinesiology and UA’s Center for Community-Based Partnerships (CCBP). “We do believe our collective efforts will lead to youth who are more comfortable in the water and are more aware and knowledgeable of the importance of nutrition and physical activity in their lives,” said LaKeda Smith, Barnes Branch YMCA executive director.

“Projects such as Swim to the Top offer UA graduate and undergraduate students an opportunity to gain valuable practical teaching, research and service experience,” said Dr. Matthew Curtner-Smith, department head and professor in the department of kinesiology and faculty advisor to the project.

The World Health Organization lists drowning as the second leading cause of unintentional injury death in children aged 1–14 years worldwide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that these children have the highest drowning rates in the nation and the fatal unintentional drowning rate for African Americans is 5.5 times higher than whites across all ages Taking part in formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning by 88 percent.

Dr. Rosianna Gray, CCBP community education director, praised the results of the program and said plans are under way to host the program again next year. At the luncheon, session leaders from the various components of Swim to the Top will recognize the participating students, their families and program team members.

Members of the swim team assisting with the program this year are Stephen Casale, Mallory Durbin, Caitlyn Freeman, Abigail Greenwalt, Joshua Harper, Jennifer Jensen, Jessica Lambert, Alexandra McNatt, Carrington Rye and Jenna Starck.

Other instructors and facilitators include Lakeda Smith, Laura Payton, Mark Harrison and Brandon McAway (administrative team); Mishon Flanigan, Julia Sanders, Antonio Gardner and Savannah Millsaps (enrichment and nutrition team); Dr. Jermaine Mitchell, Rebecca Lundgren, and Douglas Craddock (fitness team).

Zachary Wahl-Alexander, a former graduate student in kinesiology and campus leader in community engagement, is credited with the initial planning that resulted in the program.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state’s economy, is in keeping with UA’s vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state’s flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.

CONTACT: David Miller, UA University Relations, 205/348-0825, SOURCE: Carol Agomo, director community and administrative affairs, UA Division of Community Affairs,