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Lapping It Up : Children Buoyant Over School District's Portable-Pool Swim Program

August 20, 1987|JOHN L. MITCHELL | Times Staff Writer

For those children who have found it hard to get to their favorite swimming hole this summer, the Los Angeles Unified School District has a program that brings the water to them. Under the 24-year-old program, 10 portable pools are trucked to school playgrounds throughout the district, where trained swimming instructors provide two weeks of free lessons before the pools are hauled to the next location.

Short Avenue Elementary School in West Los Angeles, one of the district's 10 locations this week, has averaged about 150 children a day in the pool, which measures about 3 feet deep, 24 feet long and 16 feet wide. Pools in other locations have averaged as many as 350 children a day.

Noe Jaramillo, an 8-year-old with only two days of instruction under his belt, demonstrated how easy it was to paddle across the pool.

"The water feels great. It isn't deep and it is easy to swim in it," he said. "I'm ready to swim in the deep water."

Jaramillo was among eight children splashing in the pool during a half-hour lesson, while at least two dozen others waited eagerly with their parents for their turn to jump in.

By summer's end more than 8,000 children will have received lessons throughout the district, said Donald Wertz, a senior recreational director for the district who is in charge of the portable pools. The eight-week swimming program, which costs the district about $100,000, is scheduled to end in two weeks after having visited 40 different locations.

"The goal is to make every youngster water safe, to teach children at an early age how to swim," Wertz said. "It's not a recreational program, it's a water safety program."

There are about 50 employees in the program, including seven workers who truck the pools to various sites. "We try to cover the district from San Pedro to the Valley," Wertz said.

A similar program operates in San Diego, but Wertz said he knows of no others in Los Angeles County.

At the Short Avenue school, the program is run by pool manager Tammy Guzman and two swimming teachers who instruct from 9 a.m. to about 4 p.m.

"We consider it an accomplishment if we can get many of the children to float or teach them a survival stroke in the two weeks," Guzman said.

The instructors teach students ranging in age from about 4 to 12. "When they become too tall . . . then it's hard to teach them because the pool is small," Guzman said.

"It is a wonderful program," said Rosie Gamboa, who brought her two grandchildren to the Short Avenue school. "It will teach children how to survive if they accidentally fall in the water."

Greg Erfani, an instructor who also gives private swimming lessons, said the children who learn to swim in the portable pools are motivated.

"They come because they want to learn swimming, not because their parents are forcing them to come," he said.

Clark Dikeman, an instructor who has been with the program since 1970, said the most important thing is that it saves lives. "In terms of . . . lives this program has probably paid for itself many times over," he said.

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