Marlboro swim program to be revamped

By Mark Reynolds
Posted 2/14/24

Marlboro School Board member Faith Nannini kicked off a lengthy discussion about the swim program in the district by suggesting that the board take a new look, “at the high school and the …

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Marlboro swim program to be revamped

Marlboro School Board member Faith Nannini kicked off a lengthy discussion about the swim program in the district by suggesting that the board take a new look, “at the high school and the mandate that all students have to swim.” She has spoken to ‘key people’ who said it was a board policy, and if so, she would like to revisit the policy and have all three schools weigh in on the mandate.
Superintendent Michael Rydell does not believe the policy manual makes any reference to swimming, “being a requisite in any form in any of our documents, so that would be more of a practice.” He has discussed this issue with High School Principal Ryan Lawler and Athletic Director Philip Cancellaro, on how students can be given choices.  
“We’re looking at what the most effective model will be that also gives our students a voice and choice in what they’re doing for physical education, because we want our students to be physically active, to be engaged and to learn life-long sports,” Rydell said. “But it is not for everyone and it is not for everyone at the same times that maybe we’re doing it. So we are looking at how we can do a better swim instruction program in a more strategic way.”
Board member Patricia Benninger suggested having the students at the high school fill out a survey about the swim program, “because many students feel they don’t have a choice when it comes to swimming,” hoping the board can receive an update for the 2024-25 school year.  
Board President Frank Milazzo likes the idea of the student voice, “but swimming is so important and we don’t let them choose what they do in regular gym class.” Nannini pointed out that students in gym class can choose to go to the weight room or walk on the track, “but swimming is the one thing they don’t have a choice; they’re told it’s swimming or nothing; that’s where the issue comes in.” Board member JoAnn Reed suggested the school board revisit the entire swim program, “from the elementary level on up, but I think at this point the high school has a bigger concern.”
Student representative Gabriella Cortes said it is important to know how to swim.
“I feel that it is something that people need, but I do like the aspect of having a choice,” she said. “I know some kids don’t like swimming because of certain insecurities that they have or they just feel uncomfortable. I do feel it is important but at the same time I do agree with the student voice aspect.”
Fellow student representative Harrison Solomon has gone through all four years of compulsory swimming at the high school.
“It’s an important skill to have but I don’t know if compulsory swimming for an entire month is necessary. The best part of high school gym is I get to choose now; I can run on the track, I can play whatever sport is on today or go into the weight room [but] during swimming it’s you swim or you fail,” he said. “If you know how to swim I don’t think if has to be dragged on for an entire month.”
Board member James Mullen was formerly the Director of Aquatics and is presently the Director of Operations at the YMCA in Rockland County and offered his professional perspective on this issue.
“I would never have designed the [swim] program that we’re running and as someone that is an expert in this, what we’re doing is exposing children to water, we’re not teaching children safety around water or really immersing them in the ability to swim. I would volunteer to talk about different ideas and best practices that I know other school districts use because it is something that I oversee and do day in and day out. We have the pool and we can do better and I trust our team to come up with a better model than what we’re currently running.” 
Superintendent Rydell acknowledged Mullen’s comments, saying that the district should provide a better and more effective program.
“You’re right, we do not feel that after the swim sessions those students had any meaningful instruction,” he said, promising to have Mullen involved in conversations on this issue.
Milazzo said ultimately the goal is to teach kids how to be safe around water and to be able to swim, “and once they can do that it shouldn’t be compulsory.” He said Superintendent Rydell will be working with staff and board member Mullen to come up with a new model.