Chloe Hussey

Local lifeguard and swim instructor Chloe Hussey conducts a swim lesson for Panther Campers, at the La Honda Pool on Thursday.

It turns out panthers don't sink — they swim. Partnering with community agencies and some La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District alumni, the summer school Panther Camp has started to offer its students swimming lessons twice a week.

La Honda Elementary School Principal Kristen Lindstrom was inspired to jump-start the swimming program two years ago to expose kids who wouldn't normally have the chance to make a splash.

Swim classes are limited in the area and tend to be expensive or offered far away. In a group of about 80, nearly half the Panther Camp participants have never had lessons. This summer, as a result of Lindstrom working with groups like Puente de La Costa Sur, they will.

"Being afraid of the water holds you back from a lot of things," Lindstrom said. "You might be scared to go kayaking, whale-watching, on a tour to Alcatraz."

To beat the heat and get familiar with water safety this summer, campers walk from school to a clean, balmy pool that's regulated by the Cuesta La Honda Guild.

"It looks like a washing machine," said Randy Vail, a guild recreation director and teacher in the district, describing the water being furiously churned by splashing third- through sixth-graders.

The shallows offered some solace.

"It cools you. You don't have to always be in the sun," said 12-year-old Vanessa Rodriguez.

Perfecting swimming techniques with a couple other students, the soon-to-be Pescadero seventh-grader passed the test that allowed her to swim independently in deeper waters.

But this wouldn't have been possible without young volunteer swim instructors and paid lifeguards. School district alums like Chloe Hussey showed younger swimmers the ropes.

"All you gotta do is go like this," said Hussey. She held her breath and dipped her head in the water before surfacing again. "Ready … Go! Just keep breathing!"

Hussey's background as a University of Portland elementary education major shines through as she guides the campers through the pool with bobbing and swimming exercises.

She's been going to the pool her whole life after first being exposed to swimming at La Petite Baleen swim school in Half Moon Bay, and she's eager to share what she knows.

Panther Camp usually focuses on traditional summer school subjects like math, reading and writing, but the swimming lessons are joining a line-up of other enrichment activities that students partake in, such as gardening, dancing, orienteering and cooking.

If all goes well, Lindstrom hopes that the swimming lessons will be offered at future Panther Camp sessions so kids can learn the motor skills of swimming, and basic water-safety and rescue procedures.

"We're lucky that we have local kids that are doing good and giving back to our community," said Lindstrom. "We're so fortunate to have such a wonderful community to support this."

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