Swim program offers free lessons to middle school students in memory of Summit teen who drowned
A partnership between Summit Middle School and the Silverthorne Recreation Center is helping Summit County children learn to swim.
The program, which is funded through the Jefte Flores memorial fund, was created in 2018 in memory of a local teenager who drowned in Green Mountain Reservoir in August 2015 at age 16.
The memorial fund has provided dozens of kids with free swim lessons with the help of Summit Middle School teacher Bethann Huston.
Huston first thought of partnering with the rec center after a conversation she had with one of her students’ mothers, who had a former boyfriend who drowned in a river, leaving her too scared to let her son near the water.
Huston, an English language development specialist at the school, was surprised to learn that many youths didn’t have what she called the life skill of swimming.
The conversation inspired her to connect with Suzanna Barth, pool programming manager at the Silverthorne Recreation Center, to see if she could get swim lessons for her students who needed them.
Barth connected with a local women’s philanthropy group — which wishes to remain anonymous — to use the fund created in memory of Flores to start the program.
“They wanted to figure out how to help … promote swim lessons where people may not necessarily go out and do them on their own,” Barth said. “Whether it was cultural or financial reasons, or for whatever reason they had, just wanting to make (sure) there are no limits, no barriers to being able to provide some lessons for everybody in the county.”
Lessons are taught whenever there is an open time with instructors at the rec center, Barth said. This month, the program offered sessions on three Saturdays for about a dozen students each.
Barth said working with Huston has made running the project easier. As soon as Barth has an opening in the pool schedule, she reaches out to Huston to get the kids who need lessons to the pool.
“She calls her parents and gets them here and follows through on her own time to give them comfort and support,” Barth said.
Hamadi Ba took his 14-year-old son, Oumar, to two lessons this month, and he said his son loved the experience and can’t wait to go back.
Barth said it’s rewarding to watch kids conquer their fears and feel confident and comfortable in the water after just one lesson.
“On the very first day, we had two girls who couldn’t put their face in the water and blow bubbles,” Barth said. “And by the end of the lesson, they were doing full front flips by themselves, full backflips by themselves … submerging, going underwater and kicking.
“It’s one of the favorite lessons that my instructors love to teach because there is so many breakthroughs and so many amazing moments of discovery and successes that these kids have. And just even seeing the fear of water melt from them is so amazing.”
While Huston has been involved with the project since its start, she said this year meant even more to her seeing kids get out of the house.
“Especially this year, seeing kids who have been cooped up in their small apartments not able to play, seeing them play and enjoy the love of swimming so much really was impactful for me,” Huston said. “It’s something that many people take for granted, but to know that we’re giving kids a skill that could potentially save their lives, that just is really worth it.”
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