Already instilled with an appreciation of the importance of water safety, and learning that one in five new Canadians can’t swim, provided the impetus for Upper Canada College IB1 student Benji McLean to launch the You Can Swim program at the school.
“I wanted to make a difference and UCC was the perfect place to do it,” says McLean, who received support from his twin brother Nathan.
“With the UCC pool and the Horizons program, the You Can Swim program was a way to offer water safety instruction to those that need it.”
McLean approached Jyoti Sehgal, director of UCC’s Horizons learning partnership program, with the concept at the beginning of the school year. She was sold and guided it through the College’s approval process. McLean also explained his vision to a teacher from Thorncliffe Park Public School (where a high proportion of students are immigrants), who came on board after getting the thumbs-up from some concerned parents who had initial reservations.
The Lifesaving Society was contacted in order to receive accreditation, and approval was received to offer its “Swim to Survive” curriculum at UCC. The McLean boys spoke at an Upper School assembly before the March break to enlist students to act as swimming teachers and lifeguards.
Twenty-five Grade 4 girls from Thorncliffe Park arrived at UCC on the morning of April 6 for their first of three sessions that wrap up on April 20. This was the first time in the water for many of them.
“Because all of the girls had little to no water experience, we expected them to be scared,” says McLean. “They surprised us because, although they were a bit nervous, they were all excited to jump in and give it a try.
“The girls have been willing to step outside of their comfort zones, whether it be floating on their back for the first time or kicking all the way to the deep end. This has allowed them to progress quickly in their learning and achieve great success. They have had a lot of fun and, because of their enthusiasm towards learning, they have been incredible to teach.”
The McLean brothers have been joined by fellow students Alexander Adolphe, Nicholas Adolphe, Anthony Hua, Marko Sarenac and Paul Zaki in teaching the girls in groups of four, while Nathan Lee and John Zhang have acted as lifeguards.
A group of 25 Grade 4 boys from Thorncliffe Park with similar water experience to the girls will have their first of three sessions on April 27.
“You Can Swim was also inspired and facilitated by the Diller Teen Fellows program, which Nathan and I were a part of, as an impact project designed to make a difference in the community,” says McLean. “Our goal is to expand You Can Swim to other schools affiliated with Horizons in order to reach as many kids as possible.
“Next year we plan on reaching out to other schools to offer the program that started here at UCC. The final aspect of the program is to educate parents on the importance of water safety instruction through community outreach, including communication with parents.”