Hilltown kids can learn to swim for free this summer

Enterprise file photo — James E. Gardner

Children play in the pool at the top of the Helderberg escarpment in John Boyd Thacher State Park. 

KNOX — Next month, children in the Hilltowns will be able to learn the basics of water safety and swimming in the town of Knox.

The Knox Youth Council will be offering free swimming lessons for children in Berne, Knox, or Westerlo who will be in kindergarten to sixth grade in September.

The committee organizing the lessons emphasized that keeping children in the Hilltowns safe is the goal. Children who take swimming lessons have an 88-percent reduction in risk of drowning, according to a study from the National Institute of Health, although estimates were imprecise.

Free swimming lessons haven’t been offered in the Hilltowns since Thacher Park’s pool closed over a dozen years ago.

The swimming lessons will be given from Monday, July 8, to Friday, July 12. Lessons are free, but limited to 25 students for each of the three 40-minute sessions. The first session will start at 5 p.m., the second at 5:50 p.m., and the third at 6:40 p.m. Those interested can sign up online at knoxyouthcouncil.org.

Each session will have five instructors and 25 students, with a total of 75 slots available; 54 slots had already been filled as of Tuesday.

The lessons will take place at Camp Lovejoy, the summer camp owned by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Schenectady, on Old Stage Road in Knox. Five volunteers who are certified as water-safety instructors will teach the lessons. Teenagers will volunteer to help the  instructors. If it is raining, sessions will take place indoors at Camp Lovejoy.

The costs of the program, which include wages for three lifeguards on staff, use of the facility, and insurance, is $1,200, and sponsored by the town.

The idea for the program came together in a matter of months, starting with a committee meeting in early April. The committee consists of aquatics instructor Cindy Mosby; Berne-Knox-Westerlo teacher Bill Dergosits; Anna Lefkaditis, the wife of Knox Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis; former BKW teacher Molly Tiffany; and her daughter Sarah Tiffany, a former counselor at Camp Lovejoy.

Sarah Tiffany said that the program will not be as focused on learning specific strokes as much as it will be on water safety. This will include rescue techniques and being safe in and around water. Anna Lefkaditis gave an example: not jumping in to save a person struggling in the water who might drown, but, rather, throwing something to him to hang onto.

Molly Tiffany said that students will get a certificate at the end of the program, and parents will have the opportunity to evaluate the program and provide feedback.

Students will be categorized into four levels of experience, said Dergosits, with the hope that the different levels will be spread evenly in the various sessions.

The Boys and Girls Club holds a day camp at Camp Lovejoy that ends half-an-hour before swimming lessons will begin, said Sarah Tiffany. Dergosits noted that evening lessons allow for swimmers to participate in other programs during the day like the BKW “STEAM” (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) camp where he teaches.

For decades, free swimming lessons were offered at the Olympic-sized pool at John Boyd Thacher State Park in New Scotland, on the border of the towns of Berne and Knox. The pool was closed in 2006 to rebuild the area with a water-slide and a “leisure pool,” but did not reopen after a struggling economy sunk these plans.

This left few places for children to learn to swim for free in the Hilltowns. In Rensselaerville, swimming lessons are offered on Lake Myosotis in the E.N. Huyck Preserve, for example, but at a cost of $25 for Huyck Preserve members and $35 for non-members.

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