FANWOOD/SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- The YMCA is “America’s Swim Instructor” and the most accessible community resource to prevent drowning and encourage a lifelong enjoyment of swimming. In fact, the Y pioneered the concept of group swim lessons more than 100 years ago in 1909, and each year, the organization teaches more than a million children water safety and swimming skills at its over 2,000 pools.

Fanwood-Scotch Plains YMCA (FSPY), located at 1340 Martine Ave, Scotch Plains, teaches about 3,500 children water safety and swimming each year. This year, FSPY is following changes instituted to its swimming program to better meet the needs of the people the organization serves and to increase the accessibility and enjoyment of swimming to all ages and skill levels.

"The focus is on self-rescue and water safety," says Ellen Daudelin, Director of Aquatics for FSPY. "We are putting a focus on what to do if someone falls into the pool or any body of water. The children learn fundamentals at an early age and then move along more quickly."

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The new Swim Lessons program accommodates students of varying abilities to help foster a sense of achievement as swimmers’ progress between levels. Instructors had to be retrained based on the YMCA's new guidelines. 

"We look for instructors who can swim, naturally, but just as importantly, they have to be able to relate to kids in a positive way," Daudelin added. "We want them to have the ability to challenge students while keeping it fun."

"There can be a lot of fear. The instructors must have empathy for the kids and to understand where they are at. We want kids to be comfortable and safe," Daudelin said.

The results are more confident swimmers who stick with lessons and develop a love for swimming that can last a lifetime.

Justin Chaillet, a senior at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School, has come full circle at the YMCA pool. He learned to swim at age 3 at the Y and 13 years later was hired as an instructor.  

"What is most satisfying is seeing a student who struggled at first improve to the point of pursuing specified strokes. It's always great to see," said Chaillet, who wants to pursue a career in chemical engineering.

There are three general categories of Y Swim Lessons, which start again on April 30. 

Swim Starters develops water enrichment and aquatic readiness in children ages 6 months to 3 years. This category focuses on developing swim readiness skills through fun and confidence-building experiences. Parents also learn how to supervise children in the water, how to prevent accidents and how to plan for emergencies.

Swim Basics develops personal water safety and basic swimming skills in students of all ages. Swimmers develop a high level of comfort in the water by practicing safe water habits, engaging in underwater exploration, and learning how to swim to safety and exit if they fall into a body of water.

Swim Strokes introduces and refines stroke technique in older students (school age, teens and adults). Once they have mastered the fundamentals, students learn additional water safety skills and build stroke technique, developing skills that prevent chronic disease, increase social-emotional and cognitive well-being and foster a lifetime of physical activity.

Registration for Y members will open on April 10. Registration for community members will open on April 17.

The Fanwood-Scotch Plains YMCA is dedicated to improving the quality of life of the individuals, families and communities we serve through programs and services that build wholeness of spirit, mind and body. The YMCA is a not-for-profit organization founded on Christian principles, serving people of all ages, races, faith, cultures and socio-economic conditions. For more information about FSPY and its programs, call (908) 889-8880 or visit