Learn to swim for free with WaterWorks

By Winnie Yoe, The Dartmouth Staff | 11/2/12 8:30am

Seeds for the program were planted a decade or two ago when Ellis was a college student.

Ellis learnedto swim as an adult because “[she] was not near a pool and any pool [she] was near was segregated,” Ellis said. When she went to college, she was exposed to water all the time but was not able to enjoy being in the water because she could not swim. Ellis noticed “a lot of the other people standing on the bank or the deck were people of color” and then began to research data on African Americans and swimming. The only information she found was not about swimming but “about drowning because the highest percentage of drowning victims is African Americans, male being on the top, followed by African American women,” Ellis said.


When Ellis came to Dartmouth in 2008, she realized that students who were struggling with the swim test or those who took it last minute were often people of color — an observation shared by senior lifeguard, Athletics Department staffer Andy Forbes.Realizing “there is a stigma attached to not being able to swim for college students,” Ellis came up with the idea of WaterWorks to provide a stress-free alternative to learning how to swim for students who dislike the pressure coming from class-oriented programs.

Distinguishing itself from regular swim classes, WaterWorks was implemented last Fall with funding from the President’s Office with the help of David Spalding, now-Vice President of Alumni Relations, and with volunteers from the swim team as coaches. This term, learning sessions are held every Sunday from 5 to 6 p.m.

There is “a huge advantage using the swim team,” Ellis said. First, because of the age similarity. Second, as volunteers, they participate in the program because “they want to teach people to swim, because they have a joy of the water," Ellis said. The number of attendances varies from 1 to 13 learners. While each session last for an hour, learners are not required to stay for the entire hour, Ellis said.

“If we save one life, it will be worth every minute we spend in the pool," Ellis said. The goal of WaterWorks is “to get you proficient enough in the water that if you ended up in the Connecticut 25 yards from the shore, you can make it to the shore. You’re not going to panic,” Ellis said.

The program is not limited to minorities, though organizers try to advertise the program to underrepresented populations.

“It’s wonderful for Dartmouth students,” said Ellis. Ellis encourages Dartmouth students to take up swimming because being in the water can help you “slow down physically and mentally,” an experience she cannot find in other sports.

Winnie Yoe, The Dartmouth Staff