Students succeed in poolside jobs

Underclassmen in the swim unit right now are thankful they haven’t drowned–thanks to our hardworking student lifeguards. However, for a lot of chlorinated, bloodshot-eyed students, it can be difficult to know the real person behind the red rescue buoy.

“The lifeguards are on the same level as me,” stated Kevin Campbell, a nine-year long (plus some prior substitute teaching) member of the Physical Education staff. His trust in the abilities of the volunteer lifeguards shows in his approach to working with them throughout the unit: “I’d say the first week is a lot more of communication and pointing out some of the kids that might need a little more oversight…then, usually by the end of week two, there’s some small talk before and after class. They come in and are locked in to the water–nothing else.”

Senior Gillian Larson has been lifeguarding for the school and the Park District of Oak Park for two years. When asked about what motivated her to return this year, she said, “I wanted to continue practicing the skills that I’d learned in the summer, and I also wanted to make sure that the kids in the pool at school were kept safe and had an extra set of eyes on them.” 

Thankfully, Larson hasn’t had to save anyone in the school–yet–but is no stranger to how dangerous pools can be, having saved kids, adults, and even other lifeguards in the park district before. Still, she remarked on the more relaxed nature of the in-school swim unit. “The environment at the school is less controlled than the environment I had at the park district, because there aren’t such strict administrative rules enforced [upon  the lifeguards]; that’s just all the more reason to be paying attention,” she said. Regarding the rigid rules she experienced with the park district, she cited lifeguards getting sunburnt as a major, punishable offense in the eyes of her prior employers.

For the less aquatically inclined, spending so much time in a high school pool might seem daunting, but Larson explained, “personally, I loved the swim unit because I felt that my teacher gave us a lot of freedom in that class. After swimming like two laps you were allowed to basically play in the pool with your classmates!”

Oona Stewart, also a senior, is lifeguarding at the school for the first time this year. She also worked for the park district through the entire summer. Her reasoning for lifeguarding at the school was simple: “I got to get out of gym,” she said. She explained that being in a gym class where she wasn’t sure if she would know anyone was a more stressful environment than lifeguarding, which allows one to be alone with their thoughts and the not-drowning kids.

Stewart found lifeguarding in the school to be more relaxed as well, referring to the intrinsic safety of the pools and her trust in the students’ abilities. “You really just have to watch the deep end, because, other than that, these kids are in three feet of water, and they’re like six feet tall. So, I’m usually just, like, looking around every five minutes, just making sure that there’s no one at the bottom of the pool,” she said, laughing intermittently.

A 2014 survey conducted by the Red Cross found that around 54 percent of Americans can’t swim. Since the swim unit is a required unit for underclassmen, Campbell has seen this disparity firsthand. “We do have a lot of swimmers in our school that are on the swim team, and a very good amount of kids who are good at and are comfortable with swimming. Then we also have a smaller population of kids that are still learning, or that have never even been in a pool,” he pointed out. 

Campbell’s hard work and commitment to the swim unit for almost a decade are born, ultimately, of a love of helping people learn. He reiterated the importance of swimming not only as a life skill, but also as a fun pastime, and regularly referred to the swim unit as a “super rewarding” class to teach.

Campbell concluded, “If anybody wants to be a lifeguard in the future, we would love to have them! Having lifeguards legitimately only improves our unit, because it gives the teachers more one-on-one time with the kids who really need help with their swim instruction.” 

Students who are certified in lifeguarding and are interested in doing so for the school can contact either PE Head Brian Beyer or PE Julie Secretary Elmiger.