A collage of photos of Nikiski North Star Elementary students taking swimming lessons at the Nikiski Pool. (Photo collages provided by Nikiski North Star Elementary)

A collage of photos of Nikiski North Star Elementary students taking swimming lessons at the Nikiski Pool. (Photo collages provided by Nikiski North Star Elementary)

Community effort puts 200 Nikiski North Star students through swimming lessons

The lessons covered “everything,” from basic flotation to constructing rough-but-functional life jackets out of clothing

Over four weeks from early January to early February, all the students at Nikiski North Star Elementary, roughly 200 children, received swimming lessons at the Nikiski Pool as the result of a “large community effort,” physical education teacher Colby Way said Wednesday.

Each grade had their own week at Nikiski Pool, Way said, from Jan. 8 to Feb. 8. Students spent around two hours a day, four days a week in the water. The lessons covered “everything,” from basic flotation to constructing rough-but-functional life jackets out of clothing. The students also got to go down the water slide.

There wasn’t funding available from the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District to make the swimming lessons happen, Way said. The effort began as an idea last year and manifested because of community support — enough people willing to give a dollar, some willing to give more.

He pointed to financial donations from individuals, small businesses and larger entities like the Nikiski Fire Department and Doyle’s Fuel Services as being instrumental to cover the costs of more than 200 swimming lessons, and to volunteering efforts to help facilitate the program by 14 adults from the Nikiski North Star community and further involvement by Alaska State Troopers.

It was North Peninsula Recreation Service Area’s Pool Director Nigel LaRiccia, Way said, who got his staff on board, created a lesson plan, and opened the pool beyond its standard operating hours to see the elementary students through the lessons. LaRiccia is also one of the water safety instructors at the Nikiski Pool who spent several hours each week in the water with the students.

The importance of teaching water safety, Way said, was imparted over time teaching around the state, where industries and cultures are “very ocean- and fish-centric.” He described teaching in more rural communities like Point Lay or Port Graham, where students would leave school and get right out onto the water.

“There’s such a large population in Alaska who don’t know how to swim or be safe around water, and we’re surrounded by it,” he said.

People recognized the importance of teaching water safety to the youngsters at Nikiski North Star, and that’s why the fundraising found traction, why people gave their money, their time, and their work to get kids in the pool, Way said.

“If we can keep our kids safer … add that extra layer of protection to our community, our community is that much stronger,” Way said. “This was such a positive event.”

For more information about the Nikiski Pool and swimming lessons, find “North Peninsula Recreation Service Area” on Facebook.

This story was edited Friday to correct the name of one of the donors to the swim lesson effort.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

A collage of photos of Nikiski North Star Elementary students taking swimming lessons at the Nikiski Pool. (Photo collages provided by Nikiski North Star Elementary)

A collage of photos of Nikiski North Star Elementary students taking swimming lessons at the Nikiski Pool. (Photo collages provided by Nikiski North Star Elementary)

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