Junior Lifeguards program allows kids to be active again
After being cooped up for a long three months, kids and teenagers in Santa Barbara are finally burning all the energy they’ve built up at home, at the beach.
To many kids’ (and parents’) delight, the Junior Lifeguards program at East Beach was cleared to take place even during the coronavirus pandemic, alongside numerous strict regulations.
What typically was a seven-week long session from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. with around 300 participants turned into two four-week sessions from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. and 1 p.m.-4 p.m., with space for roughly 1,200 kids.
According to Tony Sholl, the recreation supervisor of aquatics for the city of Santa Barbara, the high demand is proof that the camp “is something that was wanted.”
“A lot of these kids have been quarantined for just their parents or, if they’re lucky, siblings for three months,” Mr. Sholl said. “This is a great opportunity to give them some sense of normalcy. The kids are excited to just be outside and with other kids.”
To safely hold the program, the directors had to restructure. They broke the groups down into “pods” of 10 kids. Each pod is several feet away from other pods, and kids within each pod sit a safe enough distance apart when they’re not exercising.
The instructors wear masks the entire time they’re on the beach, and the kids wear them when they’re not running or swimming. Any time the participants have to form a line, they’re told by instructors to hold their arms straight out like a “T” and make sure they can’t touch anyone else.
“Kids are kids and they’ll forget (the rules),” Mr. Scholl said. “But it’s day three of (the program), and they’re getting a good handle on it.”
He added that the nice part of the new system is that each pod of 10 stays in that pod for the four weeks, and they don’t closely interact with other pods. They do, however, hold competitions with each other at a distance.
“The instructors have gotten really creative, and they do competitions against other pods,” he said. “This pod will be here, then 20 feet away is going to be another pod that’s doing that same challenge.”
Kids ages 7-17 compete with swimming, paddling, cardio, sprints and various other relays to cover both the land and sea challenges of lifeguarding.
Mr. Sholl said he’s seen all the instructors, parents and kids not only buy into but rise to the challenge of dealing with the restrictions.
Jackson Wright, an instructor and second-year student at California Polytechnic State University, said he believes the program has been going “really well” and that it’s encouraging for the rest of the summer.
“It’s going to be a long eight weeks, but we prepared for it and we prepared well,” he said. “(Kids) are definitely excited to be out of the house, and the parents are excited as well. It’s kind of a win-win for everyone.”
Enforcing the strict rules has been the toughest part, he said.
“I don’t think (the kids) understand fully how important it is to keep the masks on,” Mr. Wright said. “But every day, it’s getting easier for them, and I think they understand more and more why they need to wear them, which is making it easier for us, too.”
Paige Pighetti, the program’s director and a student in the Santa Barbara City College nursing program, said the program is going better than “what anyone could have imagined.”
“We didn’t necessarily know what to expect, but I think with the instructors we have with the experience they have, it’s going super well,” she said. “They’re getting creative in ways to engage the kids, get them tired, active and interact with one another safely.”
Having to crunch what’s typically three months of planning into three weeks, Ms. Pighetti said she had to “eat, sleep, breathe Junior Lifeguards for quite some time.” However, her experience groomed her for the task.
It’s Ms. Pighetti’s fourth year as program director, 10th year on the beach as an instructor and 17th year on the beach.
“It was kind of nice because it gave us something to do after three months of quarantine,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever worked so much in my life, but I was always stuck in it. Still am and always will be.”