Summer is almost here, and there is no better time for our youngest learners in Junior and Senior Kindergarten to advance their swimming and water safety skills. With the addition of the Steward Family Aquatic Center and William R. Orthwein Pool last year, swimming has become an important and beloved unit in the Lower School physical education curriculum. Students from each Beasley grade level plunge into the pool for five consecutive school days as their first class of the day.
Director of Aquatics Programs and Facilities Khannie Dastgah (also known as “Coach Khannie”) guides the children through specific, age-appropriate swimming techniques and water safety skills. Lower School PE Teachers Sue Orlando and Jim Lohr, as well as the children’s homeroom teachers, work with small groups of children, at times individually, to help them master each phase of the skill. In addition, Coach Khannie’s father, legendary swim coach Hossein Dastgah, also assists with the swim lessons.
It is quite impressive to watch the students advance their skills from Monday to Friday. For example, the Junior Kindergarteners started the week focusing on a basic back float, first with and then without a flotation board. By mid-week, many students had progressed to a beginner back paddle, and by the end of the week, several students were able to complete the backstroke. Each child learned at their own pace, made possible by the individual attention and words of encouragement that the numerous teachers in the pool provided for each child, no matter where they were in their skill development.
Coach Khannie says that she has been teaching the backstroke first to early swimmers for years, a tactic she learned from her father while working at his swim camp that he’s held at Saint Louis University for the past 36 years. “With our method, we are often able to teach a child to swim in a week. Especially when a child is uncomfortable in the water at first, they don’t want to put their face under to swim. They are typically more open to doing a back float and eventually even a backstroke, because their face is always above the water. It’s also a great survival technique. Once you learn the correct body position, you can move on your back, and if you get tired you can always go into a resting ‘float’. A great bonus in our facility is that if they feel nervous or unstable at any point, they can easily adjust to a standing position because we have our movable floor set at 2.5’ during lessons so they can comfortably touch. Once they gain self-confidence from learning how to do backstroke, most are able to learn the other swim strokes naturally and more easily.”
The stated objectives for children in the swim unit are as follows: to develop water safety skills and water confidence; to understand water survival and basic stroke techniques; and to participate in an activity which can help improve their health and fitness. The program is meeting these objectives and more – all while providing a fun, exciting and memorable experience for each and every child at Beasley.