Alice Birney Elementary students enjoy a swim at the Arcata Community Pool | Photos submitted by Kristen Sobilo


With summer approaching and river and beach days on the horizon, it’s an important time to make sure kids know how to be safe in the water. Now, thanks to the generosity of a local retired teacher, a group of 24 students from Alice Birney Elementary School were able to take six weeks of free swimming lessons to prepare for splashing season. 

Marj Fay, who taught with Eureka City Schools for nearly 20 years and retired about 15 years ago, said that this service is something she’s wanted to provide for a long time. An avid swimmer herself and a member of the Arcata Community Pool’s board of directors, Fay believes that confidence in the water is a very important skill to have. 

“I think every child in Humboldt County needs to learn how to swim,” Fay told the Outpost in a phone interview Thursday afternoon. “We are surrounded by rivers, lakes, ocean. It’s dangerous to not know how to swim. They don’t have to become excellent, proficient swimmers.  But if they just know enough so they don’t panic, it’s a life-changer.” 

Fay also knows that paying for and getting to swimming lessons is not possible for many families, especially in rural Humboldt, where the Arcata Community Pool is the only public pool that doesn’t require a membership, which is why she decided to donate about $1,000 to provide swim lessons for kids who might not otherwise have access to the classes.

Having spent some time teaching at Alice Birney, Fay decided to approach the school’s principal, Kristin Sobilo, with her contribution. Sobilo was thrilled with the idea and decided to make it available for a group of third through fifth grade students who were enrolled in the afterschool program. Starting at the beginning of March, the students went to the Arcata Pool on Fridays after school for six weeks and just finished up their last lesson on April 7. 

“Two students had never been to a pool,” Sobilo wrote in an email to the Outpost. “Only five students were even able to tread water. Today, they all can! Our students are thankful and realize the amazing experience they are having.” 

Because the school’s buses were not available for transportation on Friday evenings, Fay said, she also needed to organize drivers to shuttle the students to the pool. She reached out to friends and other teachers and was able to get together more than a dozen folks who were willing to help the kids out. Per school policy everyone had to fill out a volunteer form, be fingerprinted and take a TB test before driving the students. 

Fay said that she was heartened by how many people wanted to help out and felt that her idea went swimmingly (yeah, that was a bad pool pun.) In the future Faye hopes to work with others to create a program that can regularly provide young students with access to this fun and valuable experience . 

“The nicest thing about it was that everybody who went said that it was fun,” Fay said. The kids were adorable and they had a wonderful time. They really loved it. Heck, I loved it, too.”