Golden is a small town of almost four thousand people, nestled between six of Canada’s national parks. The Golden Municipal Swimming Pool opened in the summer of 1978 and instantly became a summer staple for residents of Golden, both young and old.
Running a seasonal, outdoor pool has its challenges. For years, the Town of Golden was facing difficult times due to staffing, with major staff shortages we had to cancel programs, limit hours, and cap patron capacity during drop-in programs. This put us in a position we didn’t want to be in. So we had to come up with a solution.
What to do!?
Here’s what we knew: most of the summer lifeguard team was made up of university students which meant that we only had our team from May to late August, at best; local youth were interested in becoming a lifeguard, but they had issues with finding reliable courses in the region, course availability, and challenges with the time and cost to travel over two hours to neighbouring communities to obtain lifeguard certifications during the school year; in our own backyard, we were being forced to cancel our own leadership courses due to low registration numbers in the summer months. The summer is very busy for our locals! Vacations, summer jobs, summer swim club. With this intel, we had to find a solution that worked for us, and more importantly, worked for the community.
We wanted to make sure getting certified was easily accessible, while at the same time, ensuring that we had a sustainable pool of qualified applicants every year to work as lifeguards. That’s when we came up with the idea to create the Town of Golden Lifeguard Academy.
Our team reached out to the local high school, Golden Secondary School (GSS), and together we devised a plan that would benefit everyone. As partners, we would share the costs and offer a free, personalized learning experience to students, giving them the opportunity to get their Bronze Medallion, Bronze Cross, Standard First Aid, and National Lifeguard certifications for the first time as a full-credit physical education (PE) course.
One of the key ways this happened was by aligning the goals of the Lifeguard Academy with the goals of the School District – the public education goal of supporting personalized and individualized learning and the Rocky Mountain School District goal to increase learning options, learning outdoors, and getting students physically active.
This alignment provided the bedrock for the School District to support the project and devote dedicated resources to it. The high school assigned a teacher to the course, invested in course materials and fees, recruited students, got the course approved with the PE curriculum and incorporated it into the school’s timetable.
Teaching the course during the school year in a community that does not have a year-round pool for teaching the deep water and distance components provided just a few challenges! That’s where we had to get creative with lesson planning and timing. During the semester, when our pool was closed for the season, the majority of the time we practised at the Ramada Hotel pool (imagine somehow fitting 13-15 students into a pool that’s 8m x 4m, and less than 1.5m deep!).
We also took three full-day field trips to neighbouring communities to complete the deep water and distance components. Radium Hot Springs pool, just over an hour away, and operated by Parks Canada, provided their space free of charge. Radium was also facing challenges with their lifeguard recruitment and recognized the benefit of having more certified lifeguards in the Valley. When Radium was closed, we traveled 1 hour and 45 mins away to Revelstoke Aquatic Centre. We are very grateful to both communities, and to the High School for providing buses for shuttles to the Revelstoke, Radium and the Ramada.
No organization is an island
Ultimately, the success of the Town of Golden Lifeguard Academy is due to building relationships within and among communities. We understood that in order to make this project work we needed to position ourselves as a community partner and align our needs with those of others. This meant taking the lead to identify, approach and follow up with potential partners, and work together to ensure the project was on track, and everyone’s needs were met.
With the Ramada, this meant maintaining our considerate user status with them. No other hotel in town was willing to host us, so without their ongoing support we simply would not have had any pool to practise in from February to May.
We also sought out the College of the Rockies (Golden campus) for a Red Cross blended course. The students had time to do their online portion at the high school, and then walked over to the College for the classroom component. The high school payed all the fees associated with running the course through the College.
Another invaluable partnership was with the Lifesaving Society BC-Yukon. Their guidance helped us navigate the many “firsts” for our community through this project. We didn’t even think the Lifeguard Academy was possible until their Education Director showed us all the ways in which it could be done!
Goodness all around!
The program has helped GSS meet their goals for high school students by increasing course options, outdoor learning opportunities, and physical literacy, and they in turn are helping us increase our capacity as a Recreation Department by letting us teach and grow students into becoming future lifeguards. It’s the ultimate win-win. In fact, we hired three Lifeguard Academy candidates for the 2018 season, and had three more onboard this summer.
In larger terms, the youth in our community are getting active, learning valuable life skills, and increasing their employment opportunities for the summers; and we can now offer a full summer recreation schedule for the entire community.
It’s been over forty years since the Town of Golden opened the pool, and we are thrilled to have had a hand in ensuring our little-pool-that-could continues to be a favourite pastime for Golden residents now and into the future.
Check out this great video we made about the project and hear from some of the students on how they feel the Lifeguard Academy has benefitted them.
About the author:
Kim Bryan is the Coordinator of Recreation Services for the Town of Golden. As a former Williams Lake Blue Fin and University of Victoria Vikes swimmer, she just couldn’t walk away from the deck so she got a bachelor’s in Recreation and Health Education. She has since dedicated her passion to growing the little-pool-that-could: Golden’s seasonal outdoor swimming pool!
If you have any tips on how to minimize, if not completely erase, an already-well-established swim cap tan line, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also feel free to reach out to learn more about Town of Golden Lifeguard Academy and if this model might work in your community.
©British Columbia Recreation and Parks Association. All rights reserved.