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Eight-year-old Jaylen Dew was ready for his turn in the Foundation YMCA of Wilson’s pool Wednesday morning. The Vinson-Bynum Elementary second grader had been working on his back float since Monday. 

“At first it was scary, but when I got used to it, it felt relaxing,” Jaylen said. “I’m getting better.” 

Jaylen is one of 831 second graders who are part of the Y’s Learn to Swim program. The program teaches fundamental water safety and primary aquatic skills. The Y partners with Wilson County Schools to provide the training to all second graders within the district for free over the course of seven weeks. 

“What’s really so amazing is how much they learn over the course of the week,” said Foundation YMCA of Wilson Executive Director Kathie Davis. “Many of them come in scared to death, hanging on the side (of the pool), and by Friday, they’re swimming like a little fish.” 

After a three-year hiatus due to COVID-19 and construction of the new Y in downtown Wilson, the program is back in full force. 

“We started with a bang this year,” Davis said. 

Students have 35 minutes in the water for five days with trained swim volunteers. Bathing suits and towels are provided for students who don’t have them, Davis said. 

Davis said drowning is the second leading cause of death in children ages 5-14.

“I know we’re saving lives,” she said. “That’s really what it’s all about. It’s amazing the progress that the students make after five days in the water.” 


Vinson-Bynum second graders learned various skills Wednesday, including holding their breath under water, blowing bubbles, kicking and floating in the water. 

Eight-year-old Ava Proctor said she knew how to swim prior to this week’s program, but she was able to gain more confidence. She said learning how to swim on top of the water is a little more difficult than swimming under the water. 

“I like underwater (swimming) because it feels like I’m under the sea,” she said.

Davis said the program teaches children from all backgrounds and abilities that water should be fun, not feared, as long as you know how to stay safe. 

“It’s an opportunity for some of these children who don’t have the opportunity to go to the beach or the pool to learn this,” said Vinson-Bynum second grade teacher Taylor Capps. “It’s a life skill.” 

The school district schedules all the elementary schools and makes arrangements for bus transportation. Davis said swim volunteers are the program’s lifeblood. 

“It takes at least 45 volunteers each week,” she said. 

The Learn to Swim program is operated at no expense to the school district. The Y is responsible for raising money to pay for bus transportation as well as bathing suits and towels for students who need them. The Y also pays the lifeguards and absorbs expenses from the pool’s use, Davis said.

The Y received a Healthcare Foundation of Wilson Auxiliary grant this year to help with expenses.

March 7th, 2024