YMCA shares virtual swim lessons

Social media allows the nonprofit to promote water safety during a pandemic.

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The Superior Douglas County YMCA is launching a series of 8-minute videos parents and caregivers can use to teach basic swim lessons. (Photo courtesy of Y-USA)

Through TikTok, YouTube and Facebook, the Superior Douglas County Family YMCA is boosting water safety in the community.

In addition to posting messages and tips, the nonprofit is rolling out a series of online swim lessons since in-person options are canceled.

“Our goal is to have kind of a virtual swim lesson opportunity where families can access some of the swim resources that our instructors would normally be using to teach kids,” said Aquatic Director Jess Melander. “Then families can watch those videos and come and practice those skills with their kids, either in our pools or in backyard pools or at lakes and waterfronts.”

Melander recorded a series of 8-minute videos on early swim skills to share on the YMCA’s YouTube channel, covering the same ground YMCA instructors would use for beginning swimmers. She plans to release one every Tuesday and Thursday in June, beginning June 9.

Their release comes in the wake of the tragic June 3 drowning of a 6-year-old in Lake Superior , but were not prompted by it.


"This is something we've been working on for a while," Melander said. "We want kids to be safe around the water. The water is always going to be dangerous. Things like this week remind us of that."

The facility staged its phase one reopening June 1, offering scaled-back fitness and pool opportunities. Although child care has been ongoing at the site, the Y had not been open for community programs since Wisconsin’s Safer at Home order went into effect in March. That includes youth programs like swims lessons.

Lessons start with getting students comfortable with the water, which involves them submerging their faces.

“There’s a lot of coughing and sputtering that naturally happens,” Melander said, and that could pose a COVID-19 transmission risk to instructors and students.

As a result of the pandemic, swim lessons were suspended in peak season.

A total of 2,628 students took part in the YMCA’s swim lesson programs in 2019, nearly half of them — 1,169 — were enrolled in the month of May. Participants’ ages ranged from 2 to 97. Nearly three-quarters of the students the YMCA saw that year, 1,869, participated in the facility’s free “Safety Around Water” program through their schools.

“We were able to serve the students at Northern Lights, Bryant Elementary and the summer school programs at Northwestern schools,” Melander said.

Of the roughly 600 Northern Lights students who participated last year, she said, approximately 400 had never been in swim lessons before.


In December, Melander was one of a dozen aquatic directors tapped by the national YMCA organization to brainstorm ways to teach basic water safety swim skills in spaces with no access to pools.

“Which ends up being pretty useful for this season that we’ve been living through right now,” she said.

Her initial goal was to offer a dry-land version of the YMCA’s Safety Around Water program for middle school health classes in May. Instead, she worked with lifeguards and swim instructors to create a Safety Around Water TikTok channel to target those middle schoolers. They made about a dozen TikTok videos, each 60 seconds or less, to offer basic safety lessons, from the swim float swim survival technique and how to tell if a life jacket fits properly. One involves a person in a giant shark head and the “Baby Shark” tune. Most have been reposted to the YMCA’s Facebook page.

The swim lessons will also be posted on Facebook, Melander said, available for anyone to use.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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