December 20, 2017

PHS Junior Emily Becker Leads Swim Initiative for Princeton Kids

SWIMMING INITIATIVE: Emily Becker, left, founder and lead instructor of the Princeton Youth Swimming Initiative, encourages her students, Euphemia and Jordan Tejeda, in the Princeton Fitness & Wellness Center pool.

By Donald Gilpin

Working as a lifeguard and teaching swimming lessons to campers at Community Park (CP) pool in the summer of 2016, Emily Becker, now a Princeton High School (PHS) junior, observed several children in the pool who could not swim. She spoke with the children and learned that typical swim instruction was too expensive for them to participate.

Becker decided to do something about that. She created the Princeton Youth Swim Initiative for at-risk students and worked with Princeton Fitness & Wellness Center (PFWC) to pilot and develop her program.

“These kids had come so far during the summer,” she said. “I wanted to give them more opportunities to keep swimming. It’s an important life skill. Every year we do saves at CP.”

With the financial backing and partnership of Princeton Children’s Fund (PCF) and the support of PFWC, Becker was able to offer a class for those children. “They’ve really grown,” she said. “Now they’re really swimming.”

She described PFWC as “a great partner,” and PCF Secretary Felicia Spitz added, “Princeton Fitness is part of a group of good-hearted, community-focused businesses that know that these kids need help, and if people like Emily are willing to give it, they’re willing to support her. They’ve been very generous.”

Spitz noted that PCF, which formally incorporated just a year ago to provide “access to enrichment and extracurricular activities for Princeton Public School (PPS) students whose families would otherwise be unable to afford them,” focuses on the 12 percent, almost 500 children in PPS, who qualify for free and reduced lunch.

“I enjoy my work with the Princeton Youth Swim Initiative because every week I get to see my students’ confidence grow,” said Becker. “When one of my students told me he was not scared of the deep water anymore, or another grinned up at me when she swam full freestyle for the first time, it was gratifying. I love giving them the opportunity to improve every week, especially in an endeavor as important as swimming.”

Becker would like to see the program expand to as many as 20 children in the coming summer and into next fall. “We want to give opportunities to as many kids as possible,” she said. “These kids have great attitudes. They are excited to be here. They’ve really thrown themselves into it, and I’m really happy that they’re enjoying it.”

Princeton Fitness administrators and instructors share Becker’s enthusiasm for the program. “She was passionate about starting the program,“ said PFWC Aquatics Manager Matt Moates. “She was adamant about providing another way for them to learn how to swim. That’s a big problem for students who can’t afford lessons.”

Becker’s class, which now meets every Sunday at PFWC, may be ramped up to twice a week, and Moates looks forward to including other certified instructors to build up the program and help the kids. “It’s a great program,” he said. “Emily has that fire in her belly to succeed, especially with some of the kids who need it most, and we’re happy to be a part of this program.”

Becker started swimming in middle school with the John Witherspoon swim team. Her coach, who is also head of lifeguards at CP, enlisted her as a lifeguard, and she started teaching swim lessons. “I really enjoyed it,” she said. ”I’ve learned a lot and I love working with these kids.”

This past summer Becker was assistant coach for the CP Bluefish swim team of about 40 7- and 8-year-olds. She also swims competitively, 200-yard freestyle and backstroke, for the PHS varsity team and for a swim team based in Lawrenceville. “I want to continue swimming in college in some capacity,” she said. “It’s a big part of my life.”

Coaching and teaching are also becoming important parts of her life. “It’s gratifying. When I was 8 or 9, I always thought this is how I’d do it if I were a teacher,” she said. “So now I can do it.”

PCF, as stated on its website, is seeking donations “to support the program costs associated with the swim initiative and allow Emily to continue to make a difference in our town.”