Bear Paddle Swim School opened its location in Florence this summer, just in time to take on new classes of eager young students.

The brightly colored swim school looks like a child’s paradise, with neon-colored walls and toys lining the pool’s lanes ready to be utilized in a swim lesson. Bear Paddle, however, is designed with the comfort of both students and parents in mind.

The facility has family-style changing areas with individually locking stalls, a policy that instructors be in the water 100 percent of the time, a maximum ratio of four students to one teacher and a sitting area on the pool deck so parents can watch the lessons from start to finish.

Director of Operations Robin Everson explains that this is the key to a safe and comfortable lesson. “Allowing parents and families to sit on the pool deck allows them to cheer on and offer encouragement during the lesson and gives them the sense that if something happens they are right there,” he says. “It allows both the parent and the swimmer to have more confidence.”

Safety is a major focus at Bear Paddle. Every instructor must go through 30 hours of training on the Bear Paddle method of teaching and receive certification in CPR for adults and children and on operating an automated external defibrillator (AED). They also have to shadow an instructor for 10 lessons before leading their first class.

Every lesson integrates some safety skill, starting with flipping over on your back when you enter the water. “It starts with our beginner levels and is integrated into our curriculum,” says 

Another important safety skill is the Chop, Chop, Timber, in which students are taught the safest way to enter the pool—feet first.

Bear Paddle offers swim lessons year-round, making it one of the only facilities in Florence to provide lessons during all four seasons. According to Everson, 60-70 percent of swimmers stay year-round.

Students can start taking lessons at 6 months old. That age group—called the Teddy Bear group—can take lessons with their parents in order to get comfortable in the water. Age groups go from 6 months to 11-plus years, but lessons are available for students at an individual level. There are seven levels of classes available from water adjustment to competitive advantage.

At any level, Everson says it’s about fostering a love of the water. “When you see a student progressing, it’s a great moment,” he says.

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