“I really like being in the water,” a Spring Oaks Middle School student said. “It is so relaxing!”
Thirty Spring Branch ISD students from four middle schools are participating in a new swimming class to fulfill their required physical education (PE) credits. The purpose of the class is three-fold: to learn how to be safe in, on and around water, to learn four swim strokes, and to inspire the students to become competitive swimmers once they reach high school.
The participating middle schools are in the Northbrook and Spring Woods high schools’ feeder patterns in the district, and those high school swim teams will eventually benefit from the students’ early introductions to swimming and water safety.
During a recent week, for example, students worked on refining their butterfly strokes. Several students responded with “Yes!” when asked whether they plan to be on the swim team once they reach high school. And there are a few former middle school students who are already on a high school swim team.
The middle school swimming program was developed through a collaboration between the Spring Branch ISD Athletics Department, under the leadership of Assistant Athletic Director Mike Stokebrand, and the Brenda and John Duncan YMCA.
Spring Branch ISD Natatorium Facilitator George Kutac, a certified Red Cross Instruction Trainer, Glenn Elise, head swimming coach of the Duncan YMCA and Russell Hubbard, a Duncan YMCA associate and head swimming coach of Houston Christian High School, collaborate to coach and teach the budding student athletes.
“Water safety is a combination of attitude, knowledge, practice and skills,” Kutac said. “In the United States, drowning ranks second behind motor vehicle crashes as a cause of death from unintentional injury in children ages one through 14. To decrease the number of drowning incidents, water safety education plays a key role.”
This specialized PE class covers the knowledge and abilities needed for aquatic skill development, which leads to safer and better swimmers. The curriculum is based on the American Red Cross Learn to Swim Program and incorporates the latest and best emergency science.
“They have come so far,” Elise said. “I am so proud of them.”
Each Friday, Kutac rewards the students with what he calls “Free Friday,” which is time for less structured fun in the pool, including jumping off the three-meter-high diving board.
Stokebrand is grateful for the Collective Greatness and Collaborative Spirit (two of the district's Core Values) of the four middle school principals whose students participate in the program: Roy Moore at Landrum Middle School, HP Hyder at Northbrook Middle School, Mary Lou Davalos at Spring Oaks Middle School and Cristian de la Riva at Spring Woods Middle School. He also has high praise for the Transportation Department staff who make sure the students get to the natatorium and back to their schools safely each day.
“We believe in giving students different ways to be involved with school,” de la Riva said. “For some, this [swimming program] becomes ‘their thing.’ They really enjoy it.” He also noted that consistent practice teaches the swim program students to be Persistent & Adaptable to achieve mastery, which is one of Spring Branch ISD’s Core Characteristics of a T-2-4 Graduate.
Fun Fact: Kutac is a 2016 graduate of Memorial High School where he was on the diving team, and attended Texas A & M where he earned a degree in recreation. Hubbard is a 1980 graduate of Spring Woods High School, and previously worked as the communications director for the Houston Red Cross.