Being safe around the pool is a big push this year for the Wilton Family Y, and officials there are making sure that the entire community has the opportunity to be pool smart and water safe. A change in swimming programs as well as a newly-hired aquatics director–plus some great incentives–are just part of the effort to make sure the entire Wilton community can be safe in the water.

Two months ago, the Wilton Y brought on Samantha Lusher as its new aquatics director, to head the department and oversee the rollout of the swim safety program. Lusher brings with her seven years of working with Y-USA and has really enjoyed what she’s found here in Wilton.

“I love it, it’s impressive how helpful everyone is, and how kind and courteous. I’m really digging it. I don’t go home and stress out about the world. My staff is great and the other directors are awesome. It’s been, knock on wood, a breeze so far.”

To her, swimming is a life skill that is just as important as reading and writing.

“It should be something that everyone knows, in order to be safe, because at some point in time, you’re going to have to know how to swim,” Lusher says. “You can drown in a foot of water, a bath tub, something as simple as that. When you look at it from a swimmer and pool perspective, it’s scary. The more people who know how to swim, the better.”

First and foremost, the Wilton Y’s swim lesson program takes on that role as the main way the organization helps toward that effort. Starting this fall, there will be some key changes to that program.

“We used to have this huge, 11-level swim school. Now we have a 7-level progressive program. In September we’re going to essentially be a new swim school. Any of the old ‘fish levels’ [like guppies, minnows] you used to see, we’re going to convert it to a more inclusive program. Meaning it’s not just for competitive swimmers, or water polo or diving. We will still have our stroke development and everything we were doing but with a couple added improvements,” Lusher explains.

She calls it an “easier, cleaner progressive program.” Swimmers will be able to start at different levels, rather than making everyone start at the beginning levels just to make sure all the skills were there. Lusher says it will be easier to place a swimmer in the appropriate level, especially if someone comes to the Wilton Y from another program, or by doing a quick, 5-minute in-pool evaluation.

That approach is helped out by a universal adoption of the new program by the start of 2018.

“Our program will be the exact same as all the Ys across the U.S.,” she says. “If they’re coming from any other program, or even the Red Cross, it will be easier to put them into our program.”

The Wilton Y is going to keep group lesson sizes smaller than what Y-USA requires, in order to help keep swimmers more dedicated–and more bonded with instructors.

“You have to really love your instructor to keep coming back. Having that bond with your instructor is awesome. We’re going to keep our 3-5 year-olds at a max of four [per group], where the Y-USA ratio is up-to-six; we’re going to keep our older kids, the 6-12 year old bracket, we’re going to make that a max of six swimmers, where Y-USA is a max of 10. We’re going to go a little less than what’s expected of us to make sure that everybody gets as best an experience as they can get,” Lusher says.

And for the Y’s littlest swimmers? Lusher adds there’s going to be more for the parent/child and age 2-4 year old groups.

“We start our parent/child program a six months, because it’s important for not only the parent but for the child, too, to be comfortable in the water. The parent age bracket, many don’t know how to swim. Their thought process is, if I don’t know how to swim, at least my child knows how to swim. They get them in here to make sure they’re safe around water. Realistically, now summertime is the most important time–you have pool parties, and maybe there’s a girl scout troop going to the lake, it’s like a water fest. It’s a smaller activity during the wintertime, but summer it ramps up to get everybody in there for lessons,” she says.

Of course, registering for swim lessons is open to non-members as well as members.

“They’ll get the same lessons as our members,” Lusher notes. “We’re going to make our community our number one priority. We’re going to make sure that your children know how to swim and swim safely so that during the summer months, or you go on vacation or have an interaction with a pool at any other time, that parents are as comfortable as the child.

Lusher says to contact her directly with any questions about group placement, or to ask about fall lesson scheduling.

“Registration for the fall for our members begins on Aug. 18, but I’ll have the schedule before then, so if they want to figure out what’s going on they can shoot me an email and I’ll have everything the first week of August,” Lusher adds.

Making sure everyone is safe

Attention is also focused on making sure that even if families may not have the means to afford a swim class, every effort will be made to still get people enrolled.

“We want to make sure from a Y perspective that everybody is super safe. We’re trying to open our doors to as many people as we can. Personally I don’t like saying ‘no.’ I want to make sure everyone is safe and sound at all times. Anything we can do for anyone, I want to do,” Lusher says.

In fact, swimming is part of so much that the Y does–Camp Gordyland, the nursery school, and other community outreach programs.

“We try to get everybody that we have here in a pool. We get the camp kids in a pool, they have lessons four times a week; our swim access program for underprivileged kids who come in on Friday’s to make sure we’re serving the entire community, not just the paid-for programming. We also have our Race for Chase program going on right now, which is also another program for underprivileged kids who want to do triathlons and they don’t know how to swim. They’ve only been in the pool a couple days now, and the turnaround – everybody’s petrified of the pool the first day, and now we’re up to day three and everyone is like, ‘Oh my god, this is so much fun!’

Incentives:  Joining = free Swimming Lessons

The Y has an incentive in place for any new members to encourage water safety.

From the beginning of July through Aug. 6 any new member joining will receive an 8-week session free.

“It’s because of our mission to make sure that everyone in the community is safe around the water and knows how to swim. The offer does end by Aug. 6 because of the way the session falls, so you have to get in by Aug. 6 to take advantage of that,” Lusher says, noting the last 2-week intensive starts the week of Aug. 7.

There are two current 2-week intensive programs running in the morning during the summer, as well as one 4-week program that runs in the afternoon.

Lusher is looking forward to the fall, especially being part of the Wilton community.

“September is going to be an awesome time for us. I’m making sure everybody knows that things are changing for the better. There’s been a lot of turnover, but I’m here to stay. I’m going to make sure that everybody’s needs are met, and we’re going to have a blast doing it, which is the most important part,” she says.