The water in the baby pool is a foot and a half deep, and the kids in the beginner swim class average about three feet tall. Most are determined to keep their heads as far above the surface of the water as possible, but Roger Thomas, swimming teacher at the Capitol East Natatorium, is equally determined that they should put their heads into the water. And Roger has his methods.
"O.K., everybody stand in the water in a circle," he bellows. "Put your hands up. Now put them on your ears. On your stomachs, on your knees, on your ankles. Now, blow!"
Some of the kids manage to do this without getting their heads wet, but Roger pretends not to notice and starts the next exercise. The kids sit on the side of the pool, and Roger calls them out one by one.
"All right, young man," he says. "Face the class, hold your head down in the water and come up."
The kid hesitates, then takes the plunge, submerging his head for at least a second.
"All right!" yells Roger. "Give me five."
The kid touches his hand to Roger's and the teacher cups some water in his other hand and pours it over the kid's head in a kind of baptism of approbation. The kid grimaces, then grins.
The next step is to push off from the side of the pool and kick, with your head in the water. Some kids execute this maneuver well and Roger has everybody clap, but others crane their necks and keep their heads above the surface.
"I didn't want to get my hair wet," explains a little boy, who gets his hair wet anyway in the ritual baptism.
Some kids are pulled along the surface of the water by Roger, who urges them to kick, and others try to fake it by walking along the bottom. Still others do so well Roger starts teaching them arm movements.
One of the parents, who are banished by Roger to the lobby, sticks her head in to say that the kids waiting on the sidelines are drinking water from the floor.
Roger soon puts a stop to that by moving the kids out of the wet and up against the wall.
"If you move out of that spot, I'm going to sit on you," he warns them.
There are only two kids left who haven't performed in the water, but when Roger asks who's next each points to the other. Roger appoints one to go first, and the little boy, slowly, reluctantly, gets his chin and part of his mouth under the water.
"Very good, J. P.," yells his mother from the lobby, as Roger gives J. P. the handshake of approval.
"The main purpose of this class to get them away from fear. After that, they can do anything," Roger explains to a visitor as the kids enjoy some free time in the water before the class ends. "I've been teaching swimming for 24 years, and I prefer teaching the smaller kids. Some people don't have patience with them, but I've got a lot of patience."
For a finale, teacher and kids go through the circle routine again: hands on ears, stomach, knees, ankles -- and blow.
"Come up and give yourselves a clap," says Roger. "Know where we're going next week?"
"The big pool," the kids chorus, some of them glancing anxiously at the larger pool, where all of the water is over their heads.
"Louder, I can't hear you," urges Roger.
"The big pool," they answer, with a shade more conviction.
As the kids head for the dressing rooms, Roger sticks his head into the lobby to talk to the parents.
"Bring your kids down here on family night and just let them swim," he advises. "But don't try to teach them yourselves, because I'll know. And don't worry. The kids and I -- we're rollin'."