Director of Aquatics Dave Hart has developed the program as an evolution of traditional "Beginner, Advanced Beginner" swim programs. "We have gathered research and data from programs such as The American Red Cross, YMCA and USA Swimming to develop a fresh new approach to a traditional method," said Hart. "I've been teaching swimming for more than 20 years and have learned that it's less about levels and more about achievements. Skills may follow patterns unique to the child and not move in a predicted pattern. We celebrate every achievement using our ribbon system that I instituted when I arrived at Baldwin in 2008."
Students are not classified into groups or levels, as is common with other types of programs. Instead, a child's self-esteem is strengthened through achievement of a skill and recognized with a Swim Achievement Ribbon.
"The first ribbon is crucial. It's 'I Know Baldwin's Water Safety Rules.' From there, it's 'I can do bobs,' 'I can blow bubbles,' and 'I can do side bobs,' as we work our way up in confidence to submerge their heads under water," explained Hart. "We also reward effort for those who may have initial trepidation. Ribbons declaring 'I had fun in swimming' and 'I am getting close to getting a ribbon' are equally celebrated."
The program's formula for success begins with making sure there is fun in each lesson, which encourages the students' confidence and desire for learning to swim. Once the students are comfortable in the water, The Learn to Swim program teaches each stroke — freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly — in parts, rewarding each swimmer as she executes each part correctly. When each individual is ready, the parts are put together to create the whole stroke.
Overall there are 24 ribbons to be collected, each representing either one specific skill or a combination of skills. The combination ribbons are called Challenge ribbons. Throughout the program's seven years, the ribbons progress to describe skills that lead to swimming — like blowing bubbles or picking up sunken treasure — and they move on through the four strokes. By third grade, most girls master all strokes and diving. By fifth grade, the goal is for all students to refine their strokes and earn the "I can swim a mile" ribbon and the ultimate "Polar Bear" ribbon, which represents Baldwin's mascot and is earned for completing a 50-yard butterfly, backstroke, breast stroke and free-style.
The Learn to Swim Program is part of Baldwin's Physical Education curriculum, with the students participating in weekly lessons during the school year and periodic exhibitions where they display their skills to family and friends. Parents are updated on their child's progress through a report sent home three times a year.
"It's rewarding to watch our students reach a state of comfort in the pool at such a young age. Parents want their children to be safe around pools, which is normally the initial driver for lessons," Hart explained. "But swimming offers so much more. In addition to the enormous health benefits, I'm seeing more girls interested in competitive swimming. It's inspiring to watch a white-knuckled PreK student develop into a confident and competent swimmer in just a few short years."