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Crownhill kids make a splash at school

Instructor Dan Osborne helps Crownhill third graders make a splash at the Jarstad Aquatic Center. - Photo by James Mange
Instructor Dan Osborne helps Crownhill third graders make a splash at the Jarstad Aquatic Center.
— image credit: Photo by James Mange

We all know about the three R’s, but what about the three F’s? Floating, freestyle and fun. While most students are plodding through story problems, the third graders from Crownhill Elementary School are getting in the swim at the Jarstad Aquatic Center.

All students in the Bremerton Schools used to receive the swimming and water safety classes back in the 1980s, but Crownhill is the only school that has managed to keep the training going. The program is funded by a grant from the Bremerton Schools Foundation, the Crownhill PTA, contributions from the Kirk family (whose world class competitive swimming daughters, Dana and Tara both attended Crownhill) and year-round fund raising by the students.

“Living around water, we feel it’s important to give the children some basic water safety awareness,” said principal Jill Carlson. But the program is much more than that. For most students, it’s a highlight of the school year.

After an initial assessment, the students are divided according to ability, then the learning begins.

“We find the children actually learn a little faster in this program,” said Chriss Kuykendall, the recreation program coordinator for the aquatic center. “It’s mainly because they know each other already. They don’t have to spend the first couple of days getting comfortable with each other. It’s a little more fun than regular swim lessons. We get to play more games. We have 35 minutes of teaching, then the kids get 10 minutes of free time.”

Teachers Leah Witherell, Denise Burbidge and Carol Davis have divided their classes according to their reading groups, splitting the three classrooms into two shifts for two weeks of lessons each.

“My reading group kids have just had to wait and watch and be patient,” Witherell said. “They’ve been really looking forward to this.”

Witherell was with the children on their first day of swimming on Tuesday. “We definitely have some kids that are a little gun shy, but by the end of the two weeks they’re usually loving it.”

That was exactly the experience of Tyson Kaopuiki, who was a member of the first group this year. His father, Bob, volunteered as a locker room monitor since there are no male third grade teachers. “It gave him confidence,” Kaopuiki said. “He was a little afraid at the beginning, but he was jumping right in and loving it by the end.”

In fact, the experience was so good, Kaopuiki re-upped for the second session as well. “It was great for him, that’s why I don’t mind volunteering. I found out they needed help. It’s all for the kids.”

The every day aspect of the training also helps in the process.

“You get to know them a little better and they progress faster because they’re here every day,” said instructor Angela Anderson. Anderson is a home-schooled high schooler in her third year of teaching at the aquatic center. “I really enjoy the school program. The kids are really fun.”

“It was really fun,” agreed student Abbey Shedd. “I learned a lot of stuff about swimming.” Shedd said her favorite part of her first day was learning to float on her back.

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