Evanston150 measure to teach all students how to swim

Ciara McCarthy, Reporter

An idea that started as a proposal on paper has finally made it into the pool. Evanston Swims has launched its pilot program to teach all Evanston children how to swim.

The project began through Evanston150, an initiative that promotes 10 ideas to improve Evanston in celebration of the city’s 150th anniversary in 2013. Evanston Swims launched Oct. 3 with more 100 students from Evanston/Skokie District 65 schools receiving their first free lesson on swimming and water safety at the McGaw YMCA and the YWCA Evanston/North Shore.

The pilot program will allow second graders from three Evanston elementary schools to receive free swimming lessons once a month when their schools close early for School Improvement Days. Students from Oakton, Washington and Dawes Elementary Schools will be bussed to the YMCA and the YWCA, where staffers and volunteers will instruct the students.

Pam James, chairwoman of the Evanston Swims committee, said 130 out of the more than 200 second graders in these three schools have signed up.

If the pilot program is successful, Evanston Swims will gradually expand to the rest of District 65, eventually offering the program to second graders at all elementary schools in the district, James said.

For the program to grow, it needs more resources, James said. Evanston Swims has a fund with the Evanston Community Foundation, which will accept donations to support the project.

The original Evanston150 proposal was titled “Water, Water Everywhere” and included suggestions of providing free beach access, building an outdoor water park and cleaning Evanston’s canal. James said that as the committee conducted more research, members realized that first teaching students to swim was the most feasible idea.

Lori Siegel, associate executive director of youth development at the YMCA, has worked closely with James on the project. She said as soon as she heard the Evanston150 idea, she knew she had to help make it happen.

“It’s great that the community determined this need existed, but it’s great to have the support of Evanston150 to actually make this a reality,” she said.

Siegel and James both consider the ability to swim a critical skill, particularly for Evanston students.

“While Lake Michigan is beautiful, it’s also dangerous,” James said. She added that Evanston Swims is a proactive measure that could prevent water accidents before they happen.

“In addition to being life-saving, it’s also something that’s lifelong and that’s life enhancing and that opens the door to so many other opportunities,” she said.