When Olympic champion Simone Manuel visited NBA superstar LeBron James‘ I Promise School in Akron, Ohio, in March, she announced that through the USA Swimming Foundation, she would partner with the school to provide free swim lessons to students over the summer.
The inaugural edition of the swim camp took place last week, offering cost-free lessons to 140 attendees. Of those attending, 125 – nearly 90% – had never been in the water before, according to ESPN. The group was comprised of third and fourth graders, all of whom were considered “low performers academically, at risk of falling further behind their peers,” ESPN reported, adding that “all were making strides to improve.”
The I Promise School opened last summer and currently only serves students in grades three and four, with plans to teach grades one through eight by 2022. The school is specifically designed to cater to at-risk youth in the Akron area and features 8-5 school days with a shortened summer vacation. There are also family-oriented programs, including GED courses for parents.
— Miss Musci (@missmusci) June 7, 2019
Each morning of the week-long started camp with a video message from Manuel, who in Rio became the first black woman in swimming history to win Olympic gold. The I Promise school holds five “habits” central to its mission – perspective, perseverance, partner, perpetual learner, and problem solver – and Manuel reflected on them in her daily videos.
“One of their promises is perpetual learning. So I talked about, in the context of swimming, a lot of times, I have to continue to want to learn so that I can continue to improve,” Manuel told ESPN. “So I gave them examples of when I wasn’t successful, but I went back and set new goals and learned from those failures to allow myself to be successful the next time around.”
The school partnered with the Akron Area YMCA for the pool space and teaching staff. The campers spent an hour in the pool every day, and spent an hour working on leadership skills, and an hour on “We Are Family” time. About 60% of the school’s population attended the swim camp – the first of four unique weeks of day camp – and received breakfast and lunch every day. TYR, Manuel’s swimwear sponsor, provided swim gear.
The goal was to teach the students to jump in the water, get back to the side of the pool, and get out. They also worked on floating as well as safety skills, like calling 911.
“I would love to see more minorities in the sport of swimming,” Manuel says. “Often, African-American children don’t see themselves as swimmers. They see themselves as basketball players or volleyball players or track stars. Introducing the sport of swimming to them not only saves their lives but allows themselves to see the possibility of becoming an Olympic champion like myself. It [could] open the door for a college scholarship in a sport that maybe they didn’t feel like was for them.”