Surrounded by the Great Lakes and living near the Saginaw Bay, Bay City residents are no strangers to the freshwater life. Spending weekends at the cabin Up North or taking a day trip to the beach are parts of growing up and living in Michigan.
When staffing issues and extensive repairs caused Bay County commissioners to close the public pool at the Bay County Community Center, it effectively ended swim lessons for many local residents.
Holly Watson, local swim instructor, jumped into action to meet the need for water safety instruction.
Photo courtesy of Pool School
Watson is now offering swim lessons at Essexville-Hampton Garber High School, located at 213 Pine Street, in Essexville. She will hold three swim sessions this summer. The first session finished on June 29. Two more sessions will be offered in July.
Each swimmer receives six swim lessons across two weeks. Classes meet Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Sessions are $10 per swimmer and are rated at levels 1-3, to appropriately correspond with each swimmer’s experience level.
Swimmers are able to attend up to two sessions, ensuring everyone who wants to participate has the opportunity to do so. Swimmers that have completed kindergarten through sixth grade are welcome to join. For more information, check out Facebook
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Watson was raised in Essexville and grew up a competitive swimmer. She began coaching in 1999.
In 2020, Watson started noticed her incoming sixth-graders didn’t know how to swim. The Bay City Public Schools had closed some of their pools, reducing the number from five to just two, multiple country clubs closed their pools, and most recently, the Bay County Community Center pool closed.
Seeing a demand and need for swim lessons, Watson stepped away from the competitive swim world and dove into teaching.
“The pools have declined over the years,” says Watson. “I knew I wanted to get out of the competitive world and get into the lessons for the community.”
Watson decided to reach out to Bay County Executive Jim Barcia to see if she could help meet the need.
Swim lessons are more than just fun. Learning to swim is a key safety skill for people living near water. (Photo courtesy of Essexville-Hampton Public Schools)
“We met several times with Mr. Barcia in regards to the Community Center pool closing,” says Watson. “He knows there is a need because of the safety aspect – we live by so much water – so that is how this collaboration and partnership happened.”
Bay County wanted to partner with someone who could give swim lessons. Essexville-Hampton Public Schools have a pool and Superintendent Justin Ralston understood the need to teach people about water safety.
A three-way partnership was born between Watson, Bay County, and Essexville-Hampton Public Schools to ensure Bay County residents have the ability to learn how to swim and be safe around the water.
“My goal has always been water safety,” says Watson. “If a kid accidentally falls in the water, we want them to be able to remain calm and kick safely to the side or get out.”
Watson has a goal in mind to get 150 to 175 kids through the program this summer, showing the county there is a need and desire for it.
“Our ultimate goal is to get a community-funded pool once again,” says Watson.
Watson has already seen success from the first session and is hopeful for more swimmers in the upcoming two sessions, which begin July 10 and July 24.
“I know it seems like a lot,” says Watson. “But by the fourth lesson, the kids were going under the water and blowing bubbles on their own.”
As Watson has been coaching and teaching swim lessons for 25 years, she is adamant that frequency of being around the water makes all the difference.
'My goal has always been water safety. If a kid accidentally falls in the water, we want them to be able to remain calm and kick safely to the side or get out.'
Swim Instructor Holly Watson
“It’s not a whole week from the last class, so they just pick up right where they left off, they don’t have to get used to it again. It’s a big commitment for the parents, but the six times in two weeks really works the best,” she explains.
The swim lessons also highlight important safety measures when around the water.
“We discuss never swimming alone and always entering a body of water feet first as well as wearing brightly-colored clothes,” says Watson.
Watson hopes the kids fall in love with the water.
“I would like to see them continue and even possibly become a competitive swimmer,” says Watson. “Not all kids make the baseball team or the football team, but everybody makes the swim team, so it goes without saying, it’s really good for all kids.”
Whether the kids continue on to swim competitively or if they learn lifesaving tips they can use when at the beach or Up North, Watson and her collaborators are determined to teach kids how to respect and enjoy the water in the safest way, one swim session at a time.