Approximately 170 sixth grade students from West Orange – Stark Middle School are attending physical education classes at the City of Orange Natatorium daily, eagerly taking advantage of the instruction of Red Cross Water Safety Instruction.

“Many bodies of water surround the Orange area; so our students need to know about water safety,” Physical Education Instructor Camille Fuller said.

The three week swim program initially pre-tests and groups students according to their abilities. Upon completion of the program, students are post-tested and issued certifications based upon their level of accomplishment.

Water safety instructor Erin Gerald said that the vast majority of the students are enthusiastic and eager. However, some students, on their first day of lessons, were fearful of the water.

In those instances, the instructors worked to make them comfortable with the water and then began basic bobbing and bubbling drills.
“We have to get the core skills down because that is what the higher levels are built on,” Gerald said.

Soon, all students, even the fearful student, are mastering floating and gliding skills. 

All of the Red Cross instructors involved say they have seen great improvement in all of the students’ skills since the program began two weeks ago and that the results are extremely rewarding.
Many students are already requesting information regarding continuing swimming lessons in the summer and some are also considering participating on a local swim team.

Classroom teachers have noticed more excitement in the group.

Sixth grade English teacher Jeannie Istre said, “I have seen a dramatic change in the students since swimming lessons first began. The students are eager to get to school and they are even more excited to learn to swim.”

The swimming lessons are funded as part of the Texas Fitness Now Program Grant. 

“This is the second year that we have received money to invest in improving our students ‘fitness’ levels. The first year we purchased equipment to help get our students into shape,” Fuller said. 

Initial grant funds were utilized to purchase exercise equipment which included three treadmills, four elliptical machines, weights, 24 stability balls, body bars, scales, pedometers, and other materials.

“After a year of working hard with the fitness equipment – and the charting of our students’ fitness levels with the state mandated Fitnessgram, we decided we needed to develop some ‘lifetime activities’ that would keep their bodies in shape! 

“Lifetime activities are activities that our students could/would continue to do for the rest of their lives. With the Natatorium located almost on our campus, swimming was the natural choice,” Fuller said.

The Texas Fitness Now Grant, authorized by the 80th legislature, has provided $42,939 in funds to West Orange – Cove over the past two years. It is renewable yearly to Middle Schools that have 75 to 100 percent economically disadvantaged student populations.

The Texas Fitness Now grant also funded a 2008 summer fitness program for WO-S Middle School students identified as overweight or at the risk of being overweight.

The program met daily for four weeks. Students utilized the exercise equipment, participated in various physical activity programs, and received nutrition instruction.