Less than a year ago, boarding student and scholar Sylvain Yabre, Grade 11, did not want to entertain the thought of going into a swimming pool—now he proudly calls himself “a fish” in the water.
"I was hostile to the idea of getting into the swimming pool, and it was something I kept myself away from for a very long time,” he recalled. “Back in my old school I would resist getting into the pool; I didn't know how to swim and I wasn't interested at all. But within a month here I was able to jump into the water and swim as I wish. Today I can call myself a fish."
Sylvain is part of Start to Swim, a learn-to-swim programme comprising some dozen students from the Dover Boarding community, not one of whom started the school year knowing how to swim well, or at all.
The initiative was kicked off by Sophie Morley, Senior Houseparent at the Nelson Mandela Boarding House and several enthusiastic peer coaches. Later joined by the leader of the Community Swim programme, coach Sarah-Jane Clark, the Start to Swim programme has been taking place consistently every Sunday at the campus swimming pool.
Shared Sophie, "At one Boarding House barbecue pool party, I remember seeing a group of the new boarders—many of whom happened to be UWC National Committee scholars—all huddled together in the shallow end of the pool. That was week one. Now they’re swimming lengths and jumping or diving in.”
Swimming is a life-skill many who have grown up in the UWCSEA community will take for granted, with PE lessons in the pool and sea-based Outdoor Education trips from a young age. But for some students it is a privilege that involves plenty of discipline and brave overcoming of fears.
Said Sophie, “We recognise that when students join this school they may not have had any formal PE lessons, or have had the chance to learn how to swim. We want to give them some tools for self-improvement, and acknowledge the fact that not everyone starts here at the same point. We want them to be water safe and water confident.”
This team effort would not have been possible without Coach Sarah-Jane who offers her expertise as a professional swim teacher, facilitating and supervising the lessons. She has allowed Start to Swim to blossom, and strengthens the possibility of its continuation as an annual programme.
Sarah-Jane credits the high level of commitment among the boarders to the peer coaches, many of whom consistently swim alongside the learners every week.
Said Sophie, "It was a good way to meet people and establish connections. What I was blown away with was that a lot of people weren't helping for the CAS credit. They were coaching because they were available and the lessons gave them a chance to connect with new people."
“Start to Swim gave me an opportunity to be immersed in the joy of swimming,” said Shiqi Yang, a Grade 11 peer coach. “Through teaching, stronger relationships were built between me and my friends.”
Boarders also learnt survival skills, basic rescue skills, and kayaking. Over the school holidays, when many of our scholars are unable to travel home, access to swimming and other water-based activities keep the students stimulated and engaged—a much-needed respite from their studies.