For kids, splashing in the pool can be among the best of summertime activities. But the idea of jumping into unknown waters for the first time can be frightening.
Colonie native Kevin Kearney is trying to change that. Kevin’s Swim School is comprised of a local team of early- to-mid 20s swim instructors focusing on making the pool a comfort zone, rather than a fearsome pit. The school specializes in teaching children from the age of 18 months to 10 years old, helping them relax into the water and gearing some up for competitive swimming.
Kearney, a 2007 Shaker High School graduate, began the swim school two years after graduating from SUNY Binghamton with a degree in mechanical engineer. He has been swimming competitively since fourth grade.
When he returned back to Colonie from college, he began coaching for the Albany Starfish Swim Club as well as putting his degree to use by working at a power laboratory. With suggestions from the Albany Starfish head coach, Kearney decided to start his own “Learn to Swim Program.” He began getting in touch with some old swimming friends who were still in the area to see if they were interested in helping him out, and was soon able to set up two class locations at the Sunnyview Wellness Center in Schenectady and the Holiday Inn Express in Latham, with about 60 students.
“It started to take off a little quicker than I anticipated. I had to make the decision, ‘What are you going to do? Follow swim school or mechanical engineering?’ Go with swim school,” Kearney said.
Since starting in June 2012, Kearney has amassed 10 coaches that teach swim classes year round. Kearney created a core curriculum for the classes, splitting kids into six different levels, from beginning to intermediate. The different groups each have a customized curriculum based on what the swimmers need to learn in a logical progression to help them learn to swim safely. Classes run in six-week blocks of 30-minute weekly session, and have a ratio of four kids to one coach.
“One thing we make sure is we keep the classes very small,” Kearney said.
Kearney said all of the instructors were also competitive swimmers or teachers. All instructors are CPR and lifeguard certified.
“We really make sure the kids are being taught from people who know what they’re talking about in terms of swimming but who are also good at communicating with what the kids need to learn. Sharing that quality, not cookie-cutter type teaching mode, adapts to the kids,” Kearney said. “It makes life a lot easier knowing you have quality instructors who are great with kids, so I already know what they are capable of.”
Greg Danis, of Colonie, swam with Kearney in high school and is now one of the instructors at Kevin’s Swim School. He said one reason he enjoys working for the swim school is because it turns a lot of the kids on to competitive swimming.
“Most places around here use the Red Cross method, which has its pros and cons. No one’s had the guts or insight to come up with a new kind of plan. (Kevin) is really more of a scientist when approaching the stuff,” Danis said.
Children can also move up during the session if they need more of a challenge.
“It’s pretty cool, even with one day a week, you can really see the progress of the kids, especially when the classes are small for individualized attention,” Kearney said.
Kearney said focusing on being comfortable in the water and trusting the instructors is something they often work on with the kids.
“We’ve had a good number of children who have come into the program who had experiences that were less than favorable in their backyard pool. It left them with a perception of swimming that was not very positive,” Kearney said.
Having smaller classes and teaching things in small bits, Kearney said, often helps ease the kids into the program.
“Help them recognize they’re safe with the instruction and the environment is friendly, comfortable. You’ll see these kids start to open up and try new skills, and that’s when they can really take off,” he said.
New to the program this year is adding an “Our School At Your Pool” program, where instructors come straight to people’s backyard pools for classes. Kearney said classes can be individualized or set up as neighborhood groups, but there’s a maximum of three kids per class.
“It’s a nice format I think because it’s for the kids to have lessons with your buddies,” Kearney said. “(It) allows kids to learn to swim in the comfort of their own home.”
Kearney said he often revises the class curriculum and keeps it up-to-date to see what worked, what didn’t with the instructors.
“I want to keep the program growing, and most importantly, keep the quality where it needs to be, instruction top notch. We’re doing everything we can to make sure the students are learning in a safe and enjoyable environment,” Kearney said.
Visit kevinswimschool.com for more information.