students in swimsuits sitting on pool bleachers

La Grande School District Learn to Swim Program



Learning to swim can save your life! That’s a mantra that La Grande School District and Soroptimist International of La Grande are committed to. The district’s Learn to Swim Program provides lifesaving swimming lessons to about 150 third graders every year.

The local Soroptimist chapter donates money to the district, about $4100 per year, to make the program possible at Veterans’ Memorial Pool. Students are bused to the pool from their school every day for two weeks for 30-minute lessons.

Due to the COVID pandemic, the program was suspended in part of 2020, 2021 and part of 2022, so now the program is playing a bit of catch up. Fourth graders and fifth graders, who missed out on the program as third graders, are receiving swim lessons during the 22-23 school year. Soroptimists provided extra funds, about $11,000, last year to fund the make-up lessons.

Brett Smith, Principal at Island City Elementary, is the coordinator of the Learn to Swim Program for La Grande School District. He said the district and Soroptimists believed it was important not to skip the students who were not able to participate when they were third graders. “We are very thankful to our local Soroptimist organization for continuing to fund this program and for providing additional donations this school year to cover the cost for all students to receive this crucial instruction,” Smith said.

On a recent, wintry March day in La Grande, fourth grade students from Central Elementary were enjoying the warm environment in the pool and learning how to bob up and down in the water, perfect the flutter and breaststroke kicks and practice their freestyle stroke. As they swam back and forth across the smaller, shallow pool, their swim instructors gave pointers about breathing techniques, making their kicks stronger and more effective and using a kickboard. Although they just seemed like kids having fun swimming, they were also learning skills that could make a real difference someday.