Kitsap Tennis & Athletic Center hosts first graders from elementary schools for free swim lessons during the school year for its Kitsap Kids 2 Learn program.

EAST BREMERTON — Enzo Lampanno braved the waters at the Kitsap Tennis & Athletic Center last week with his classmates from Woodlands Elementary.

Lampanno held his nose as he dunked himself underwater, coming up with a big smile on his face and more confidence. 

Was he nervous at first?

“Yes,” Lampanno said. “And then I just started to go under the water.”

Did he like it?

“Yeah! And I like swimming under the water,” Lampanno grinned.

It’s the goal of Chriss Kuykendall, aquatics director at KTAC and its volunteers to make sure each of the first-grade children not only enjoy themselves but learn valuable life-saving lessons during a week of swim lessons at the center’s pool.

The Kitsap Kids Learn 2 Swim program for Central Kitsap School District children does just that.

Enzo Lampanno is guided in the water by volunteer Helen Schwartz during swim lessons last week at the Kitsap Tennis & Athletic Center in Bremerton. KTAC raised funds to offer free lessons to first grade students at Woodland, Brownsville, Esquire Hills, Pinecrest and Cottonwood Elementary during the school year. (Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)
Enzo Lampanno is guided in the water by volunteer Helen Schwartz during swim lessons last week at the Kitsap Tennis & Athletic Center in Bremerton. KTAC raised funds to offer free lessons to first-grade students at Woodland, Brownsville, Esquire Hills, Pinecrest and Cottonwood Elementary during the school year for its Kitsap Kids Learn 2 Swim program. (Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)

“On the first day they’re hesitant to get in the water but by day eight they’re excited and not clinging to the wall and trying new skills,” Kuykendall said. 

Children from Woodlands, Cottonwood, Esquire Hills, Brownsville and Pinecrest Elementary Schools have been taking the lessons free of charge thanks to specific fundraising by the athletic center. The program has been in effect for three years, Kuykendall said. The monies raised go toward paying staff, lifeguards and transportation cost for the students. Eighteen volunteers give lessons.

Chris Kuykendall, Kitsap Tennis & Athletic Center aquatics director, works with first-grade students from Woodland Elementary last week. KTAC raised funds to offer free lessons to first grade students at Woodland, Brownsville, Esquire Hills, Pinecrest and Cottonwood Elementary during the school year. (Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)
Chris Kuykendall, Kitsap Tennis & Athletic Center aquatics director, works with first-grade students from Woodland Elementary last week. KTAC raised funds to offer free lessons to first-grade students at Woodland, Brownsville, Esquire Hills, Pinecrest and Cottonwood Elementary during the school year for its Kitsap Kids Learn 2 Swim program.
(Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)

The lessons include basic water safety as well as learning to get in and out of a life jacket, how to float on their backs and stomachs and getting to the side of the pool as well as a basic crawl stroke. Kuykendall said the biggest group they had was 72 children but the usual limit is 50-60 per lesson.

Jennifer Brantley, a first-grade teacher at Woodlands, said she personally thinks swim lessons are a necessity for young children, even if it’s just getting from point A to point B safely.

“I think it’s very useful,” she said. “We live in Washington State. We’re surrounded by water. Even if it’s just a swimming pool at an apartment. I like this because in certain situations there are kids who get natural exposure, for example. I lived in Hawaii and we were around the water. But a lot of our students aren’t going to have access to water and so this allows them the opportunity they wouldn’t have.”

Olympic High student Tiernan Shelton smiles as he volunteers teaching swim lessons to first-grade children at Kitsap Tennis & Athletic Center. KTAC raised funds to offer free lessons to first grade students at Woodland, Brownsville, Esquire Hills, Pinecrest and Cottonwood Elementary during the school year. (Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)
Olympic High student Tiernan Shelton smiles as he volunteers teaching swim lessons to first-grade children at Kitsap Tennis & Athletic Center. KTAC raised funds to offer free lessons to first-grade students at Woodland, Brownsville, Esquire Hills, Pinecrest and Cottonwood Elementary during the school year for its Kitsap Kids Learn 2 Swim program.
(Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)

Helen Schwartz is a former elementary-school teacher and swimmer and volunteers her time teaching in the program.

“They wear me out,” Schwartz said as her pupils happily frolicked around her. “They progress so much while they’re here.”

Brantley agreed.

“I think just in the swim lessons themselves, the kids go from being hesitant to now at least be willing to take the risk and jump in the water,” she said. “Those kids weren’t sure about putting their face in (the water) and now with a pinch of their nose are willing to dunk their head in. It’s teaching them that task a risk factor.”

Lampanno admitted that the lessons are a highlight of his day of learning. 

“The most fun part is learning how to swim,” he said.

Kitsap Tennis & Athletic Center volunteers work with first grade students from Woodland Elementary last week during swim lessons at the athletic center. KTAC raised funds to offer free lessons to first grade students at Woodland, Brownsville, Esquire Hills, Pinecrest and Cottonwood Elementary during the school year. (Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)
Kitsap Tennis & Athletic Center volunteers work with first grade students from Woodland Elementary last week during its Kitsap Kids Learn 2 Swim program at the athletic center. KTAC raised funds to offer free lessons to first grade students at Woodland, Brownsville, Esquire Hills, Pinecrest and Cottonwood Elementary during the school year.
(Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)
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