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Learning to swim

Ana Anthony/Daily Globe Jami Cummings (left) is shown presenting a participation ribbon to Jennifer Argueta during the wrap-up celebration Friday at Prairie Elementary.

WORTHINGTON -- The sound of water splashing and children screaming could be heard from the pool area at the Worthington Area YMCA Thursday morning.

Prairie Elementary second-graders were clearly enjoying themselves on the last day of The Jami Cummings Learn to Swim program.

Beginner student, Alize Souphommanichanh, was more comfortable with the water Thursday than she was two weeks ago.

"She didn't even know how to float on the first day," said her instructor Tina Nickel.

After eight days of swimming lessons, Souphommanichanh can now swim away from the pool wall.

Souphommanichanh is one of the approximately 240 second-grade students from Prairie Elementary who have completed their two-week swim program at the YMCA.

Fellow student Makenna Nickel said she accomplished learning how to float on her back and her stomach.

"My favorite part is going off the diving board," she said.

With the help of seven instructors, five 30-minute sections were organized each day beginning April 16. YMCA aquatics coordinator, Connie Jones, worked with Prairie Elementary teachers to block out 30 minutes from each class schedule to accommodate the lesson.

She said students were separated according to their swimming ability level on the first day.

"Our advanced level was definitely our smallest group," Jones said.

Swimming instructors taught their young learners breathing, floating and swimming techniques.

As students grasped what they'd learned, they advanced to the diving blocks and the diving board.

Parent Vieng Harvey said how terrified her son, Ethan, was of the diving board.

"I think he was the only kid in his section who cried," Harvey said, adding the pool depth for the diving section 10 feet. "On his last day, he was in line five times for the diving board."

American Transportation, the bus company contracted with Worthington School District 518, provided free daily transportation to transport students to and from the YMCA

"We really thank the bus company for the big commitment on their part - running so many trips a day," Jones said.

As a wrap-up for the program, the YMCA staff and volunteers, Jami Cummings, students, teachers and administrators, gathered at the Prairie Elementary second-grade commons Friday for a small celebration.

"These two weeks have been the best time of my entire life watching all you swim," said YMCA executive director, Andy Johnson, to the children in attendance. "Thanks to Jami being in the right place at the right time last summer, she was able to save a mother and daughter from drowning. We want to make sure that never happens to anyone of you or your family."

Cummings, who attended the celebration, exclaimed how proud she was of the students.

"It was an awesome feeling to see kids who was scared to leave the pool wall on the first day, then jump off the diving board on the last day without help," Cummings said, adding she attended each section at least once to watch the students' progress.

Cummings presented all the students with participation ribbons. They also received an individualized progress report, coupons for a free swimming session with their family at the YMCA and an activity book reiterating the swimming lessons.

Pizza Ranch of Worthington sponsored free pizzas for Friday's celebration.

As Prairie Elementary second-graders have completed their two-week program, students from St. Mary are three days away from concluding theirs.

The YMCA staff and volunteers will begin working with students from Worthington Christian School, Brewster and Adrian next week.

The Jami Cummings Learn to Swim program was funded by this year's Deep Freeze Dip, which managed to raise close to $15,000.

Daily Globe Reporter Ana Anthony may be reached at 376-7321.