Swimming: Not Necessary for Everyone

Do members of the varsity swim team benefit from the in-school swimming unit?

Swimming: Not Necessary for Everyone

Kathleen Esfahany, Staff Writer

“Can someone help me with my swim cap?” “Ow! My hair!” “The water is so cold!” “Does anyone have an extra towel? Mine fell on the floor!” “How much time do we have left to change? I need to dry my hair!”

With the start of the second quarter came the dreaded swimming unit for sophomore girls. Despite the wide range of swimming abilities seen within each class, there’s a consistency: most students can already swim.

The learning objectives of the swimming unit are clear: basic strokes and endurance. The district-issued letter regarding the swimming unit states:

During the unit your son/daughter will be learning basic stroke skills; such as free style (front crawl), backstroke (back crawl), elementary back stroke and breast stroke; water safety skills, paddle boarding basics and throughout the unit will be building stroke skill endurance.

Students showing proficiency in academic subjects can test out of the course. Students prefer to explore new topics than be bored in a lower-level class. Especially with limited time left before college applications, there’s no room for an easy course in their schedules.

For the girls who have been on a swim team for several years, doing the swim unit is a waste of time – no new skills are gained. Athletes on the swim team already know all of the strokes covered in the unit (and more). They have developed a high level of endurance from attending two hour practices, six days a week. The gym classes’ ten to fifteen minute, alternate-day swim sessions with low-intensity work is not going to improve their abilities or increase their endurance. The swimming unit doesn’t help these students already adept in swimming.

The final test for the unit is a ten minute tread and twenty laps. According varsity swimmers, just their warm up set greatly exceeds twenty laps. They could easily pass this test without completing the swimming unit. But what would they do after passing the test? To answer this question, I had a discussion with Ms. Kost, chairperson of the health and physical education department. She said that testing out isn’t an option because there is no alternative to the swimming unit.

If the school administration values students’ time, they would provide an alternative. Sophomore members of the varsity swim team said that if a single lap lane were set up, they would prefer to lap swim instead of doing the slow, basic exercises that have been required so far. This free alternative would better use the time of the students on the swim team, in addition to the numerous other students who are not on the team, but are already proficient in the basic strokes.

Setting up a lap lane would allow the teacher to work closely with the students that do need to learn the basic strokes. All departments, except for the physical education department, offer multiple course levels. Having honors and regents level courses helps students with differing abilities to attain differing types of instruction. The swimming unit could be improved greatly by separating advanced swimmers from the beginners.

It’s clear that for multi-sport athletes, taking an academic course will most likely enrich their high school years much more than taking physical education. Still, PE is required by New York State Education laws, and students enjoy having one period to relax in between their more-intense classes.