Every week, over 150 elementary school students descend on Farley Field House to jump in the Greason Pool as part of the Harpswell Community School program. The program focuses on teaching students from Harpswell to swim and preparing them for potential careers as lobstermen.
Those that grow up in Harpswell are constantly surrounded by the ocean—nearly four-fifths of the town of Harpswell is water. Kids as young as twelve years old can work on lobster boats, often following in their parents’ footsteps.
Swim lessons run for six weeks throughout the winter and spring. Kathy Feely, a lifeguard at Bowdoin whose children attended Harpswell Community School, says the program operates just as if her children were going to gym class, since the Harpswell community comes together to organize and fund the program.
“The [Parent Teacher Organization (PTO)] of the school raises the money [for the program]. It’s over $3,000 a year,” said Feely. “They raise the money so that kids [can come to the program] for free.”
The Harpswell PTO works together to supply educational, recreational and social programs above and beyond those provided by the school system for the benefit and welfare of Harpswell children who grow up surrounded by the ocean.
Feely’s children were part of the program years ago, and she feels lucky that her kids were able to take part in it.
“My son grew up to be a lobsterman so I feel safer knowing that he is on the water and has some skills,” said Feely.
In addition to teaching kids how to swim, the program includes basic skills like CPR, calling for help and how to be safe around the water.
“They also teach the kids to go off the high dive board and to hold their nose under the water because [if they are working on a ship] they might have to jump off a boat or a ship in an emergency,” said Feely. “It’s important for them to have those skills and not be scared of the water.”
Greason Pool serves more than just the Bowdoin community; it is a recreational facility for the greater Brunswick/Harpswell area with additional open swim hours on Sunday afternoons.
“People from Harpswell can come and swim for free for an hour,” said Feely. “This is funded by Harpswell Recreation Center, but gives kids a chance to come and practice what they’ve learned and swim with their parents.”
For some families, it makes all the difference.
“We wouldn’t have the program if Bowdoin weren’t here,” Feely said.