Petersburg Mitkof Middle School students will be swimming at the community pool. (Photo/KFSK)

Mitkof Middle School students in Petersburg will start swimming as part of their mandatory P.E. requirement but not all parents are excited about the idea. KFSK’s Angela Denning has reports:

Middle School students in 7th and 8th grade will start swimming as part of their physical education this month. The swimming curriculum will be similar to what elementary students do, rotating swim with regular P.E. but the middle school students will swim every third week. So, it will be gym for two weeks and swim for one.

The middle school has had swim classes before with former teacher, Dana Simon. Now, there are three teachers for P.E. and Dan Van Swearingen will be instructing the swim students. He’s also the swim teacher for the grade school. The middle school students will be split into three groups– all boys, all girls, and mixed gender– and they’ll be working out in three areas: the high school gym, the community gym, and the pool.

“Middle School swim will begin at second quarter at the middle school,” said Rick Dormer, Principal of the Mitkof Middle School. He was addressing the district’s school board at their last meeting.

The start date is October 21. Dormer said the idea to add swim back into the curriculum was brought up by the three P.E. teachers. The smaller class sizes will make it possible.

“It was brought forward by the teachers with Mr. Van Swearingen being a certified swim instructor,” Dormer said, “which is something we haven’t had with this small of groups in many years.”

Dormer said he’s gotten mostly positive feedback from parents about the new swimming curriculum. But not all of the parents agree, like Matt Pawuk.

“My concern is that these girls– and honestly the boys too– they’re at a time in their life right now where things are awfully awkward,” Pawuk said.

Pawuk and his wife, Stephanie, spoke to the district’s school board. He told the board that junior high students are dealing with changing bodies and some girls are struggling to learn their first menstrual cycles.

“If they’re trying to deal with being on their cycle in the pool, they’re going to have to probably use a tampon or sit out and to be honest I just feel like that’s an additional—this is an awkward enough time in our life—it’s another layer of awkwardness for them to have to deal with,” he said.

Pawuk said that it was a difficult subject to talk about but he was speaking on behalf of the 13-year-old girls who can’t speak up. He said the girls might be saying that they don’t want to swim because it will mess up their hair but he said that’s not the whole story.

“That’s probably the thing I would focus on as well if I were a 12-year-old girl and I was asked to go talk to to my principal about why I feel uncomfortable getting in the pool,” Pawuk said.

Pawuk said he and his family didn’t think the swim class should be mandatory. He said he’s heard from other parents who feel the same.

Dormer said girls will be allowed to switch to a P.E. group if they don’t want to swim during their cycle. But Pawuk’s wife, Stephanie Pawuk, told the school board that removing the student isn’t a good solution.

It’s going to be obvious why they’re switching groups. Everyone will know,” Stephanie Pawuk said. “And that’s pretty much really mortifying for most middle school kids.”

Dormer said students will be allowed to wear other clothing to swim class besides traditional swim suits, like shorts and shirts and leggings. 

Besides swimming skills, the students will be learning water safety, CPR, as well as about life rafts.

Dormer said that the teachers have allotted ample time after swim for students to shower and prepare for the day. He also added that having PE in the first period of the day “shows scientific results that support greater learning gains, so we do our best to make this happen.”