Valley teens learn SCUBA |

Valley teens learn SCUBA

by Merrie Leininger

Eight Valley teen-agers have dreams of bigger ponds now they have been given the skills by the juvenile probation department.

The department provided a SCUBA class for any teen-ager who wanted to take it. The class has been provided through the juvenile probation department for the last 10 years, taught by adult probation officer Doug Swalm who formerly worked with JPO.

Swalm, who now has to take time off from his current job to teach the class, said it is sometimes trying, but worth it.

“The kids really need this, they learn a lot about physiology; stuff they pick up in school a lot better because the know basic stuff now,” he said.

The class is taught in seven days, with the kids spending five hours in the classroom and seven and a half hours in the pool practicing for their four dives in Lake Tahoe.

Swalm said he has to spend a lot of time with the kids to ensure every student earns their diving certification.

“I’ve never flunked a kid,” he said. “I work with them a lot. Some of them aren’t real good students and it may take a couple of times for them to pass the final, but the only time they don’t get their certification is if they quit.”

Swalm said the class is especially beneficial to those who are on juvenile probation. He speaks from the experience of 13 years as a juvenile probation officer and two years as an adult probation officer.

“If we don’t take the time to help change this person and give them time and allow them change, they never get this type of rehabilitation program as adults. The focus should be on juvenile rehabilitation,” he said.

Swalm said the two district court judges and the justices of the peace from East Fork and Tahoe townships really support the wilderness program, which allows students to do other outside activities in addition to SCUBA diving.

Swalm said the children who earned their certifications will be able to go on a camping trip to Monterrey in July where they will be allowed to dive.

The trip involves a lot of counseling and many adult chaperones from the district attorney’s office and the sheriff’s office.

“The kids are all the time working. They have group meetings and counseling continuously and it’s not just a fun trip,” she said.

The wilderness program is funded with the help of a state grant.

All the students said they enjoyed the class whether they took the class because their juvenile probation officers told them about it or they just took it for fun.

Elliot Hansen, 16, who will be a junior at Douglas High School next year, said the class will help him a lot in the future.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to get into for three years now. I want to be a Navy SEAL and so I will be able to use it then,” Elliot said. “I thought it would be a great thing for the career aspect. It looks good on a resume.”

Jessica MacHutta, 15, will be a sophomore at Douglas High School next year and said she took the class for similar reasons; she wants to be an oceanographer.

“I like fish. I’m waiting for when I will be able to get into the Lake and see some,” she said.

Getting all the underwater skills down can be difficult, but Jessica said she caught on pretty quickly.

“It was like I expected. It’s pretty easy. I got it all down the first or second time I tried it,”she said.

Jessica said it’s a great experience to have for more reasons than one.

“I tell my parents what I learned every day and they seem kinda jealous,” she laughed.

Joe Rose, 13, will be an 8th grader at Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School in the fall and said he heard about the class from his sister, who took the class a couple of years ago.

“I wanted to get certified, and maybe if I went into marine biology I’d have the certification. I’d like to get advanced certifications like underwater hunter and photography and the advanced diver course,” he said.

Joe said only one thing made him nervous about the open-water test in Lake Tahoe.

“I’m looking forward to it, but I still see snow up in the mountains. My sister said it was so cold she felt like she was going to die,” Joe said with a nervous smile.

The students completed their open water dives Tuesday and can receive their certifications after they pass all the underwater skills and a written exam.