St. Stephen set to make a splash in swim programming

ST. STEPHEN – St. Stephen is set to make a splash on the swim-programming scene. Aquatic and Programming Coordinator, Aaron Muzzatti who hails from Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, is looking to increase St. Stephen’s programming profile significantly regionally, and perhaps even nationally.

In early January the Canadian Red Cross (Red Cross) announced within the next year it would end its swim certification program in response to increasing demands for its humanitarian services. The Red Cross statement says it had been involved with life-saving programs since 1946. However, the organization is ceasing its efforts in this area to address “disaster and pandemic response, opioid harm reduction and caregiving for seniors.” The statement suggested that aquatic programmers turn to Lifesaving Society Canada.

For the last two years, Muzzatti has been in charge of the two indoor pools at the Garcelon Civic Center’s Kiwanis Aquatic Center and the outdoor W.T. Booth Centennial Pool. He is familiar with both the Red Cross and Lifesaving Society Canada organizations, having spent eight years in their programs. His decided preference was for Red Cross programs, which he found were more detailed with levels and types of swimming strokes offered.

With the news and the options presented, Muzzatti and his team did not hesitate. They started to come up with their own programming, “from the ground up,” as Muzzatti puts it. “It was a lot of work, but we’re just trying to fill a shoe that the Red Cross is leaving empty,” the aquatics coordinator states.

Fundy Water Safety (FWS) is almost ready to go, with an end of March to early April start date for most of the program material launches. However, some of the class start dates may depend on COVID restriction levels. “I prefer to wait to level one to return to in-person classes,” Muzzatti puts forth, “for the safety of the students and the peace of mind of the parents.” As well, staff is busy preparing programing at record speed.

Many similarities exist between Red Cross and FWS, right down to the aquatic animal types depicted on the badges and the one to 10 swim levels. In fact, existing instructors can roll their certification into the FWS program. As Muzzatti writes in an email, “we will be extending the expiry of those who first sign on by one year in addition to what’s left on their current Red Cross certification.” Often instructor certification is valid for two years before recertification is required.

FWS has classes and levels for everyone, beginning with water babies at four months of age up to trainers. FWS has made additions, adaptations and expansions to Red Cross programs. For example, Muzzatti thinks it is crucial to have a Fundy Swim Assistant Instructor program so that want-to-be-teachers can gain some practise before becoming Fundy Swim Instructors. “It gives them [prospective instructors] more experience before they get into the water on their own,” he says decidedly. The program proudly states in its promotional material that it “is created by instructors for instructors.”

For participant swimmers, the programs are supported by stickers, badges, midway and final report cards. There is also a wide variety of related items that Muzzatti is working on, including manuals for trainers. When possible, Muzzatti uses local or provincial resources. The logo and badge designs, for example, were created with assistance from St. Croix Printing.

While Muzzatti is putting the finishing touches on core programming, he has his sights set on the future additions.

“We do intend to develop a more specific adult program for the varying levels which adults can start at (anywhere from non-swimmer, up to someone on a master swim team),” he details in an email. After that he wants to look at aqua fitness and aquatic lesson supervisor courses.

The advantage of a broad swim program is that levels and certifications will be recognized in other areas. In the province, Hampton and Sussex are aiding by reviewing materials and will be the first on board participating as development partners. Other aquatic centres may be signing up for the program once some of the legalities and technicalities are smoothed out.

“We are offering it to them for the cost of the materials for the first five years in exchange for them participating in the pilot program,” Muzzatti explains. After that there may be an added cost for licensing. Calls are coming in from all parts of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and as far away as Saskatchewan and British Columbia.