12/05/2013 Peter Durantine

F&M Afterschool Programs Fill Gap For Lancaster School District

In February, Franklin & Marshall College seniors Jin Hwang and Alexia Tomlinson and six other members of the F&M swim team gathered at Kunkel Aquatic Center's 50-meter pool on campus. They welcomed 10 Lancaster children, ages  10 to 14, to Swim to Success, an afterschool program equal parts exercise and academic tutoring.

During the first session, they hit a snag.

"Most of these kids didn't know how to swim," said Hwang, a freestyle competitor on the men's swimming team. "Some of them didn't want to get into the water." 

  • Franklin & Marshall College volunteers and swim team members with the Swim to Success after school program teach middle school student the basics of swimming at the College's 50-meter pool in the Kunkel Aquatic Center. (Photo by Courtney Collins)

After assessing each child's skills, the students found that a few of the kids could swim well enough to enter the pool. Others needed extra attention. Twelve-year-old Hazel, for example, was terrified of the water, Tomlinson said.

"At the beginning, she couldn't get off the pool wall," Tomlinson said. "By the end of the program she was swimming five yards. That doesn't sound like much, but it was a huge improvement."

The 10-week program, which will start again in February 2014, is the third of its kind at Franklin & Marshall. Like F&M SLAM (Sports, Leadership, Academics and Mentoring) and Squash ACES (Attitude, Community, Excellence and Scholarship), Swim to Success combines mentorship and sports training to help local elementary and middle school students build skills and confidence.

The programs also benefit F&M students, teaching them how to identify and develop leadership traits in others. And the volunteer work is vital to the School District of Lancaster, which has been forced to significantly reduce its afterschool enrichment programs due to tightening budgets and reduced aid from the state and federal governments, said Julie Rhoads, assistant director of F&M's Ware Institute for Civic Engagement.

"Having partnerships like this provides programs for kids who might not have something to do after school," said Rhoads, who oversees the three programs.

Rhoads recently joined F&M from the school district, where she had a similar job via a partnership with The Boys and Girls Club of Lancaster until funding cuts reduced the district's afterschool programs, including those at John F. Reynolds Middle School, where F&M directs its programs.

The school district's Kathi Loferski said the program cuts "makes partnerships with private industry, churches, community based organizations, and higher education more valuable than ever so that we can continue to provide much-needed, quality tutoring and enrichment opportunities to our students."

School Before Pool

Swim to Success kids spend the first hour of the program working on homework, doing writing exercises and bonding as a group in the Woods Room at F&M's Alumni Sports and Fitness Center (ASFC). They spend the second hour in the pool inside the ASFC.

F&M swimmers introduce the students to the water and teach primary strokes -- freestyle and backstroke. The focus is on building basic swimming skills.

"What we quickly realized was not to try and make them into great swimmers, but to make them comfortable with the water and not fear it," said Hwang, an environmental science major.

The young students also learn how to tread water and dive off diving blocks. As the kids become more confident, the volunteers teach them games such as water polo and coach them to dive for and retrieve objects at the bottom of the pool.

Tomlinson, a history major and an endurance swimmer who competes in the 500-yard and one-mile events, said she and Hwang were civic-minded when they developed the program.

"We wanted to be more involved in the Lancaster community, and we thought that the swim team could give back a little more," she said.

  • Reynolds Middle School students participating in F&M SLAM (Sports, Leadership, Academics and Mentoring) kick up their heels in the middle of a game of kickball in Buchanan Park, adjacent to Franklin & Marshall College. (Photo by Melissa Hess)

Still Slamming

F&M SLAM is another program that enhances partnerships with the local community. The initiative started in fall 2012 under Mark Dourmashkin, a senior business, organizations and society major. He wrote a 13-page operations handbook on the sports leadership program.

SLAM's coordinator this year is Melissa Serrano, who was a volunteer last spring. The senior sociology major recruited enough volunteers to establish more meaningful relationships with the students.

"What I wanted to do this year is make it more of a mentoring program," Serrano said. "I wanted the kids to feel like they have someone to talk to and someone to listen to."

SLAM had its second session in October. Serrano trained volunteers to understand that the students are a racially, culturally and economically diverse group. The program currently has seven volunteers, but Serrano would like to see future organizers increase the figure so there is one mentor for every five children.

"The 1-to-5 ratio is ideal because we can do small group activities," she said.

Before tackling their homework and writing assignments, SLAM kids first divide into teams to play kickball, soccer or basketball. "Anything that gets them up and running," Serrano said.

It's not just about sports, Serrano said. F&M mentors also help the students develop personal and social skills that will benefit them in academics and in life.

"It's helping kids push themselves and helping them understand and cope with peer pressure," she said.  

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