The Memorial Park Natatorium offers a class called Whales Tales to both the Jasper City and Walker County school districts. It is a water safety and learn-to-swim program that is geared toward mainly fourth and fifth graders. Natatorium Manager Stacy Banks explained that the only exception to that rule is Memorial Park Elementary, where all grades are taught.
“It involves eight different safety lessons, safety for in and around the pool or any body of water. We do all the grades at Park school because they are right here and it’s easy, but they don’t get as much in-the-pool time,” Banks explained. “I’ll usually go over to the P.E. class and do the lessons, then each group comes over and has one pool time, where like Lupton [Jr. High] will come, do a lesson each time and get eight times in the pool. It just depends on how the school wants to do it.”
For the 2013-2014 school year, the natatorium served Curry and Lupton during the fall and is currently teaching Valley Jr. High. Other schools who will be participating in the program this year include Sumiton Christian, Memorial Park, T.R. Simmons and West Jasper.
Whales Tales doesn’t cost the districts or the schools anything for Banks to come out to each individual school and educate students on water safety. If students want an actual in-the-water lesson at the natatorium, however, it costs $2 per child per visit.
“Basically, you’re looking at $16 for a lifelong lesson in water safety,” Banks said.
Assistant Natatorium Manager Lisa Barnett, who is also the main instructor, enjoys teaching the kids. She starts the students out on the bleachers where she teaches and reviews different water safety and swimming techniques before entering the water.
“We’re progressive. Last week, I would not let them jump but just in the shallow part. Today, they will jump in the shallow to review and then that group will move halfway,” Barnett said. “So, it will be progressing. ... Every week we’re teaching them new skills.”
Once Barnett reviews with the students, they will then walk down the ramp into the water and move closely along the sides of the pool. Next, the kids follow Barnett’s instructions, whether it’s holding their breath, blowing bubbles or kicking their legs while holding onto the sides of the pool. Lifeguards are then in charge of the different stations that are set up in the pool.
Whales Tales was started approximately eight years ago and was one of their first programs, Banks said, they really focused on because of the importance of water safety.
“There’s so many bodies of water in Walker County, and we need these kids to learn these skills early and learn how to be safe whether they’re at the lake, the river, or at a pool. There’s not always supervision. You don’t always have the skills for different types of water — moving water, cloudy water, clear water,” Banks said. “There’s so many different aquatic environments that they need to be aware of. Swimming is such a fundamental skill. Human beings are not aquatic creatures; we have to learn those techniques; we have to learn those skills. It’s not a natural environment for us.”
On Friday afternoon, fifth graders from Valley Jr. High quickly changed into their swimwear and scurried to the bleachers, ready to make a splash. Teachers Barlane Crump and Angeline Nix were thrilled about the opportunity their students were able to take advantage of.
“We have loved it, and the kids love it,” Crump said. “... Everybody wants to be in fifth grade and come swim at the natatorium.”
Nix added, “We are incorporating this into our classroom. Next week we are writing a five-paragraph essay about the benefits of water safety.
“The people who work here have been wonderful,” she continued. “We’ve had some children that are very afraid of the water, and they’ve had one-on-one attention. We’ve had some special needs children who have gotten one-on-one attention. We are very fortunate to be able to participate in the program.”
One student was so scared about going to the natatorium at first that he cried not wanting to go. Now after receiving one-on-one instruction, he not only gets in the water but he is also learning how to float and swim on his back.
During the spring, the Red Cross in Jasper will be offering community education for anyone wishing to volunteer and teach programs such as Whales Tales, Scrubby Bear (a hygiene program) and Be Red Cross Ready (disaster preparedness) within the county schools.
The Memorial Park Natatorium is open Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:30 a.m. until 7 p.m.; Wednesdays and Fridays from 5:30 a.m. until 6 p.m.; and Saturdays from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. They offer a variety of programs, packages and classes. For more information, contact the natatorium at (205) 384-9617.