OUTLOOK: Learn to Swim: Popular program returns to Vicksburg City Pool after two-year hiatus

Published 4:00 am Sunday, May 1, 2022

For years, Vicksburg City Pool’s Learn to Swim classes help teach many of the city’s residents how to handle themselves in the water.

For the past two years, they have not.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic forced City Pool manager Sylvia Gurtowski to cancel the classes in 2020 and 2021. Finally, however, after a two-year hiatus, they’re coming back.

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Registration for the low-cost lessons for children and adults will be held at City Pool from May 11 through 14. The classes themselves will be held in three sessions in June and July.

“I’m thrilled to be able to bring this back because over the past two years I realized this is a part of me,” said Gurtowski, who is one of the instructors for the classes. “I’m glad we are able to offer some lessons and hoping we can have full classes.”

Learn to Swim is an American Red Cross program designed for beginner swimmers. Most of its participants are children, but adults are also welcome ­— even encouraged — to participate.

The program has six levels that take students through everything from learning how to breathe while swimming to basic stroke work.

The real benefit, however, is the cost. Unlike private lessons that can cost several hundred dollars, Learn to Swim provides up to 10 lessons for only $15. Each session has at least eight lessons and could have as many as 10 depending on the weather, Gurtowski said.

Because of the low cost, the classes have been extremely popular and fill up fast. Registration is in person only, and payment must be made via cash or check.

Registration will be at City Pool from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on May 11, 12 and 13, and on May 14 from 10 a.m. to noon. Classes fill on a first-come, first-serve basis and space is very limited.

Only six students will be assigned to each class, for less than 100 total spots. The small number of available spots, Gurtowski said, is because of an ongoing shortage of qualified lifeguards and instructors.

“We are short staffed, but we are going to pull off as many swim lessons as we can — and they will be high-quality swim lessons,” Gurtowski said. “We don’t want to overwhelm the instructors and make sure children get quality swim lessons.”

The first Learn to Swim session is scheduled for June 6 to 17. The second is June 27 to July 8, and the third runs from July 18 to 29. Each session will have hourlong classes held each day from 10 to 10:45 a.m. for Levels 1-3 and 11 to 11:45 a.m. for Levels 4-6, and then an evening class from 5:45 to 6:30 p.m. for Levels 1-3 and beginner adults.

Children must be at least 5 years old to participate and must be able to stand comfortably in the shallow end of the pool.

“You can’t learn if you’re hanging on the wall for dear life,” Gurtowski said.

City Pool will open to the public on Memorial Day and be open on Monday, Friday and Saturday during the summer. Tuesday through Thursday is for lap swimmers, and daycares can call 601-634-4516 to reserve times on Wednesday.

The pool will be closed on Sunday. It will also close June 3 through 5 and on July 8 while the Vicksburg Swim Association hosts a pair of meets there. The pool will also be closed to the public during swim classes but will reopen afterward on those days.

While it is open to the public, Gurtowski said the pool will only have the shallow end and baby pool available for swimming because of the lifeguard shortage.

The start of swim lessons is one of the unofficial waypoints of the summer season in Vicksburg — as well as the exit from the COVID era — and Gurtowski said she’s excited to see it roll around again.

“It’s refreshing my memory, brushing off the cobwebs and getting back into the routine,” she said. “I don’t mind telling you that we’re nervous. We’ve got the butterflies. It’s like starting over again. But we are excited about it.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 139-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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