FOR THE SECOND YEAR IN A ROW, I Am Modern readers have voted Potomac Swim School as the Best Swim School in the magazine’s annual Best of the DC Suburbs survey.
For owner Donna Boone and her staff, the accolade affirms that their unique, relationship-based approach to swimming instruction continues to resonate with area families. “Investing in kids and families, giving kids confidence in the water, this is what we love to do,” says Boone. “We thank our families for sharing their children with us. We want only the best for them.”
Boone was not always passionate about swimming. “I was that frightened child. I was terrified of the water as a kid,” she recounts. She overcame her fear, going on to swim competitively as a teenager, but she never forgot how cold water and callous instructors initially kept her out of the water. When she started teaching swim lessons in high school, that early negative experience connected her with the kids whom she taught. She knew intuitively that getting kids in the water had everything to do with making them comfortable and her natural reserves of patience and pragmatism helped her reach the most reluctant swimmers. Soon, she was the most requested instructor at her pool.
From these summers spent teaching and swimming, Donna went on to pursue a graduate degree in education, finishing her coursework two weeks before delivering her daughter, Brittany. Along with motherhood, Brittany’s arrival brought the beginnings of an idea. Boone had her daughter in the water as an infant; by nine months of age, Brittany could move through the water comfortably. Impressed by Brittany’s enthusiasm for and ease in the water, friends started asking Donna to work with their infants. She gladly did, finding ways to integrate her knowledge of child development with her command of swimming techniques. Fourteen years later, Boone rented swim lanes from a McLean health club and, with five students, started Potomac Swim School; the school’s current site, on Red Rum Drive in Ashburn, opened in 2003. Today, the school has 1100 members and runs its swim programs through out the year.
The staff at Potomac Swim School believes that water competency is a survival skill. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that drowning accounts for more deaths among children ages one to four than any other cause except congenital issues. Knowing this, one of the goals of the school’s program is to get kids comfortable in the water while teaching them how to get out safely especially if they unexpectedly fall or get pushed in. Boone tells a story about one of her students who had been pushed into the water during a pool party. The child told his parents that he was “scared but I did exactly what they taught me at Potomac Swim School. I swam over to the wall and got my arm, tummy and leg up.” The school uses a progressive curriculum developed by Donna and a competitive swim coach that focuses on child development, parent support and learning through play. Classes are grouped primarily by age and ability, but instructors are constantly assessing students to make sure that their placements are accurate. While the school emphasizes fun and water competency, it also offers a developmental swim program that prepares kids to swim on competitive teams.
Relationships are an integral part of Potomac Swim School. Boone describes her staff as “like a family.” She speaks with equal warmth about the many families she has come to know over the years while working with their children. Amy Polen, who handles the school’s daily operations, talks about her work in building relationships with parents, letting them know when their child has done well. Whether it is a non-swimming parent who has calmly watched her child go underwater or a frightened child who put his face in the water for the first time, both Polen and Boone recognize the wonderful work that confidence can do in encouraging success in other areas of life. Boone smiles when she talks about the “‘Pointments” that her students make to talk with her about how they are doing or how they like their instructor. She values their perspectives and they, in turn, give her the insight into how well her school lives up to its mission.
Walking into PSS is like walking into the classroom of your favorite grade school teacher. Bright colors and vibrant art work accent the white walls, reminiscent displays of student artwork. Two rows of white chairs line up like desks in front of a viewing window. From here, one can see the pool, whose deck is clear of debris, although a large kick board in the shape of a whale peeks out from along the wall like a friend waiting to play. It's an environment that encourages participation and promises support for one’s efforts. Donna Boone has worked to create a safe and fun place for kids to learn how to swim. I Am Modern readers, by their votes, obviously feel that she has.
POTOMAC SWIM SCHOOL
21730 RED RUM DRIVE #107 ASHBURN, VA 20147
Jessamyn Ayers writes and lives in Loudoun County with her husband and two children. She enjoys reading, writing, running, working her dogs and baseball. In addition to her fiction writing, she maintains the blog "The Curveball Contingent" (curveballcontingent.blogspot.com).