Alameda Parks & Rec Aquatics

July 11 Update

Each summer we sign our 7 year old up for the Alameda Parks and Rec summer aquatics program at the Encinal High School pool. Usually he does two of the three sessions, covering 6 weeks, with lessons four nights a week. At the end of each session they issue a report card and let the kids know the level they are on.

The Pool

There are actually two pools at Encinal High, a fairly shallow one and one that is set up for lap swimming and diving (it has a spring board in one corner where the depth increases to 12′).The shallower one is heated, and is where most of the classes happen. The deeper one is used by the groups on the higher levels and for treading water by the lower groups (it has a shallow side).

The Lessons

The lessons are relatively small groups (five or six kids per group), and the instructors look like college or high school kids. There seems to be quite a bit of variation in what they actually do between instructors, but they do spend the entire time working with the kids. The last five minutes of each class are a free swim / play time for the kids too which they like.

The Reports

Sadly, this is where the whole program falls apart. There is zero consistency between sessions. The written remarks on the back of the report don’t match the items highlighted in the list as not completed. Worse still, from one report to the next, things that had been completed are suddenly marked as failing. Here are the two achievement lists from 2017:

Session 1

Session 2

As you can see, in both cases one item was marked as not being achieved, but it was a different item, and the one in session 2 he had previously achieved in session 1. I would have expected there to be some kind of continuity from one session to the next such that the kids spent the second session working on the skills they were missing at the end of the first.

Things get even more puzzling when we get to the “Exit Skills Assessment” section on the back of the form. The first session had all three items marked as complete (I read exit assessment as meaning the skills required to leave this level and move the next):

Session 1, 2017

Yet, despite all the exit requirements being met, they decided that he had not completed level two. The second one did not have any of the exit assessment section marked at all:

Session 2, 2017

Not even sure whether they bothered to do the exit assessment for this session. Certainly does not appear that way since it is hard to believe he would have regressed that much in the space of three weeks.

Then, the first session this year looks like this:

Session 1, 2018

Now six of the skills that had been marked as achieved in both of the 2017 sheets are ringed (not sure what that actually means), and three are left without markings at all. The exit assessment now has one item ringed:

Session 1, 2018

Below that there is a block of text from the instructor that only says he needs to improve side breathing in freestyle and staying on his back.


While the swimming is certainly something that he enjoys, and I believe he does learn from these sessions, the assessments do nothing to confirm that. Looking at the assessments above, either they are totally inconsistent in how they are assessed (and the 2017 ones were just a few weeks apart), or the classes are making him a worse swimmer! (FWIW, he has been swimming with me many times in the year between these classes, and in my opinion has improved a lot in his swimming over this last year.)

Adding to this, we just started the second session and it appears they took no notice of the reports they sent home last week, and decided to re-assess all the kids as if this was their first time at the pool. It is hard to believe that the person running this program has any experience with running a swim school. The inconsistencies in the instruction and especially in the assessments is disappointing.

The more cynical part of me suspects that these report cards are not issued based on assessed skills, but rather on available space in the class for the next level. Right now there appears to be one level three group, and it is full, making it impossible to promote anybody else right now (unless they are not attending the next session of course).

July 11 Update

Both my wife and I have now spoken with Dennis (his response is below in the comments), and the pool manager about the issues with the assessments. They are going to be looking into what they can do to make them more consistent between instructors and between sessions, in the same season at least, to improve that aspect of the sessions.

I would like to re-iterate that I do think the sessions themselves have been valuable. Our son has definitely improved during his time in the classes. That is what made the issue with the assessments even more frustrating (not to mention demotivating for the kids who work hard for three weeks only to receive a report that suggests they are worse than they were previously).

One thought on “Alameda Parks & Rec Aquatics

  1. Dear Mr. Gordon,
    I’d like to address some of your concerns and questions put forward in the review of ARPD’s Swim lesson program. I am the supervisor of the Aquatics program, and have 35 years of aquatic experience. ARPD’s onsite pool managers also have several years of experience coordinating the day to day operations of the lesson program.

    ARPD follows the American Red Cross’s Swim to Live Program, I do believe the curriculum to be effective in teaching students the necessary skills to be a competent swimmer. I am also confident that my staff, all certified by the American Red Cross, are capable of executing a successful swim lesson.
    Thank you for mentioning that we do our best to keep group lessons at a 5 to 1 ratio between students and teachers.

    In reviewing your comments regarding the written evaluations I too can see some discrepancies. These written evaluations are a snapshot at the skills each student has during testing. Sometimes students will be able to perform certain aspects of the testing process better at one time, then not do so well during testing. Depending on the session, your child may have had different instructors. Our pool managers onsite oversee the testing process and organize the participants into group levels. If warranted, a student can be moved up at any time during a session. ARPD has no issues with creating space for a newly advanced student or adding a teacher to accommodate children as they advance. That is our goal, for children to be water safe and enjoy swimming. In the future please don’t hesitate to communicate with our instructors and pool mangers if you feel there is a concern. I’m confident that ARPD’ s onsite managers would have conducted a review of your child’s skills, and re- tested your child again to clear up any questions.
    .The second session of swim lessons began yesterday. At the beginning of each session our staff work to separate students into classes based on skill level. Since each session has new students this process is necessary. I understand it my seem cumbersome to returning students, but I ask both participants and parents to understand that staff try to accomplish this as quickly as possible. Staff also continues to adjust classes throughout the sessions as students improve. Feel free to contact our Aquatic staff by phone, 510 522-4590, speak to them in person, or call me at 510 747-7586.
    Thank You

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