Loyola University Chicago

Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing


Loyola partnership revives Proviso East High School pool

Loyola partnership revives Proviso East High School pool

By Maura Sullivan Hill

Before spring 2017, swimming, splashing, and diving were a rarity in the pool at Proviso East High School in Maywood, Illinois. The facility was in good shape, but underutilized because it lacked a lifeguard staff.

Until the West Cook YMCA and Proviso Partners for Health (PP4H) partnered up to offer a lifeguard certification course as part of physical education at the school.

In just a few months, the scene at the Proviso East pool changed drastically. In May, 11 students received their lifeguard certification to great fanfare at a celebration ceremony in front of their teachers, families, supporters of the partnership, and even local media.

The students had spent five weeks during their physical education (PE) class completing the American Red Cross Lifeguard certification, which includes swimming, rescue drills, and first aid training.

PP4H is a multi-sector coalition comprised of Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine and Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola University Health System, as well as Proviso-Leyden Community Action, Proviso East High School, Respiratory Health Association, Quinn Community Center, Green Business Network, and more than a dozen other community and social service agencies and businesses.

Focusing on Strengths

Community support was key to this project getting off the ground so quickly, with the YMCA, PP4H, and the high school faculty all behind the effort. Talk of reviving use of the pool began in November 2016, and the lifeguard course was up and running by March.

“Offering the lifeguard certification course was a very collaborative effort,” said Joanne Kouba, associate professor and director of the dietetics education programs at Loyola’s Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing. “At PP4H, we have a philosophy to identify community assets and strengths, then bring those together, rather than focusing on deficits or negative things.”

The pool was a ready resource, and the rest happened thanks to “authentic, enthusiastic commitment,” according to Phillip Jimenez, president and CEO of the West Cook YMCA.

Teaching Water Safety

Tracy McCormick, the chair of the physical education department at Proviso East, wanted to offer the lifeguard certification class as a PE option for a number of reasons, but safety was at the top of the list. Only a fraction of the students at the school know how to swim.

“Students are going to learn safety skills around the water so that if something does happen, at least they can save themselves,” she said. “That is the most important life skill to have, to enjoy the water and not be afraid of it.”

Now that there are certified lifeguards at Proviso East, McCormick’s department can offer aquatics classes for PE. And many of the students now have another option for employment. Of the 11 students who passed the course, six have been hired to work at YMCA pools this summer.

“Those students working as lifeguards are representatives for other youth,” said Jimenez. “For them to be holding that responsibility daily out on the pool deck speaks to the caliber and potential of all the students at Proviso East High School.”

Community Transformation

The lifeguard course is one of a number of programs funded by a Transforming Community Initiatives (TCI) grant that PP4H received from Trinity Health, the national hospital system that oversees Loyola University Health System. The grant will provide $2.5 million over five years, from 2016-2021.

“The big focus of the grant is on policies and systems that support healthy living, particularly related to food, activity, and tobacco. It’s not about primary care services, weight loss programs or going to see the doctor,” said Kouba, who spearheaded PP4H’s application for this grant with Lena Hatchett, assistant professor and director of community and university partnerships at Loyola’s Stritch School of Medicine, and a co-founder of PP4H. “We want to get people eating and acting healthier so they don’t need as much reliance on health care providers and the medical system. We want them to do things the healthy way by default, rather than wait for diseases or obesity to develop and then try to fix the problem.”  

Before reviving the pool at Proviso East, PP4H started a community garden in Maywood and initiated a program that brought healthy, grab-and-go salads to the Proviso East cafeteria.  The lifeguard course will be offered again in September, with graduates of this spring’s program working on the pool deck as lifeguards while their classmates learn the same skills.

To learn more about PP4H, visit provisopartners.com