New Swim School Makes a Splash at Edens Plaza

Founded by swimming pros, Big Blue Swim School caters to families by making kids comfortable.

Getting kids to get in the pool and stay in for a swimming lesson can be a serious challenge. Big Blue Swim School, which opened in Wilmette last month, came up with a surprisingly simple and effective solution. It keeps its training pool’s water at 91 degrees and the air inside a balmy 87 degrees.

“We really work to create an environment that's fun,” said general manager Alissa Melczer. “You can't learn anything if all you're thinking about is how cold you are.”

That was what made Winnetka resident Kristina Bornhoeft decide to sign up her 4 ½-year-old daughter for classes at Big Blue, despite the fact that she hadn’t loved swim lessons in the past.

“We had heard about it through friends, and that it was a great program for kids with warm water,” Bornhoeft said.

Building a Following Through Recommendations

Big Blue started off by renting a pool from in Glenivew, and word of mouth recommendations have helped them build a following that moved with them.

“It's been amazing,” said Melczer. “We came over here with about 650, 700 students, and we're up to 1,600 now. People have gone home and said to their friends and neighbors ‘Come and check out the new location.’”

Warm water isn’t the only draw. Big Blue was founded by professional swimmers Chris DeJong and John Lonergan, and classes are designed to share their expertise with even the youngest students.

“They took their pro-swimming experience and broke that down into a teaching program,” Melczer said. “Our students are learning not just how to make it from one side of the pool to the other, but how to do it with proper form and technique.”

Classes Available All-Year Round

There are no set start or end dates for swim lessons, so parents can sign their kids up throughout the year, regardless of their child’s swim level.

“The nice thing about the perpetual program is that we meet with instructors every day to evaluate every student,” Melczer said. “You don't have to do a full eight- or 10-week session of one level. We want kids to be challenged every time they come to class.”

Melczer said that the Edens Plaza space has proved especially convenient for parents.

“Our parents coming from the old location love that they can go to ,” she said. “There are things for parents to do while their kids are in lessons if they need to go grocery shopping or they want to grab a bite to eat.”

School Caters to Families

The school also caters to families with multiple kids by offering a play area or arranging to provide lessons for different age groups at the same time. 

“My kids love it,” said Winnetka resident Courtney McDonough. “They like it more than they've liked any other swim lesson. They beg to come back.”

DeJong, an Evanston resident, said he’s thrilled to be able to share his passion with kids.

“I love swimming,” he said. “I've been around the water my entire life. I learned to swim in Lake Michigan as a kid, and I feel really lucky to be able to come to a pool every day. It doesn't really feel like a job.”

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