Showcase Event Concludes Sixth Annual Swim to the Top Program

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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.”