Beginning Wednesday, Jan. 15, Fitchburg youth ages four months through 12 years will have a new option for learning how to swim.

Goldfish Swim School, 2922 Hardrock Road, opens next week, and despite several other swim schools already in the area, owner Laura Liras is confident their unique approach called “the science of swim play” will set them apart.

“Kids learn best through play – high fiving, lots of music, songs, games,” Liras said. “Kids have a bond with their instructor and get excited about coming.”

It’s the second Goldfish Swim School in the state and one of 90 in the franchise across 34 states. It will be managed by Cindy Gonos. Gonos brings to the school a background in health, wellness and fitness. She relocated to the area eight years ago.

Liras lives in Michigan, though some of her extended family, including sister-in-law Eugenia Walters, are Wisconsin residents. Walters left her job as a banker to become the assistant general manager of the new school.

Liras noted that they are all are mothers, so they all understand kids in addition to management and leadership.

A focus on moms guided their decision on where to place the new school. After looking all over Madison and Fitchburg, they decided the expanding Hardrock Road location was “mom central,” and felt nearby businesses were all places moms frequented.

But it’s not all about the moms at Goldfish. Because of the number of fathers who bring their children on Saturdays at her location, Liras jokingly calls them “Dadurdays.” She says quite a few grandparents bring their grandkids, as well.

The school was founded in 2006 in Birmingham, Michigan by Jenny and Chris McCuiston. The McCusistons developed a teaching philosophy based upon science that demonstrated children learn best when they learn through play.

Consulting childcare specialists, educators and swim experts, they created a curriculum focused on providing a safe environment and learning through guided play.

Part of learning to swim in a playful environment will include celebrating milestones by awarding ribbons regularly, even for little achievements such as putting on goggles for the first time.

“Swimming is a lifesaving skill, but also a confidence booster worth celebrating,” Liras said.

It was at the original location in Michigan that Liras, owner of the Fitchburg location, took her own children to learn to swim and got to know the McCuistons personally.

The concept behind its curriculum is not the only distinctive feature of the new swim school. Individual private changing rooms are provided, as opposed to a locker room, the “shiver free” pool is heated to 90 degrees while the pool room is maintained at 92 degrees, and the pool’s sanitation system mixes salt with chlorine which lessens the harshness of the water. Liras says they have state of sanitation technology and will be testing their water three times a day.

In the 75 by 25 foot pool, they will hold multiple classes at once, running classes six days a week. Lessons are 30 minutes and children will attend one lesson a week.

The school will offer perpetual lessons, which means students will not have to wait for a new session to start before beginning. Children will be placed into classes based on their skills, not age. Goldfish also has tools and curriculum developed specifically for kids with special needs.

There will always be a lifeguard present. There will also be deck supervisors, who help evaluate to make sure kids are meeting all goals during their classes, while the instructors concentrate on instructing.

The climate-controlled pool is contained inside a full glass room, where parents can observe comfortably from outside, enjoying tea and coffee the school will have available.

Gonos said many parents change their kids into pajamas after lessons and take them straight home to bed. A large vanity mirror has surfboards on either side for seats and a row of hairdryers, where children and mothers enjoy socializing after classes.

On the wall, spanning the entire length of the 75-foot pool, is a mural of the ocean. Found amongst the whales and fishes are a snorkeling Bucky Badger, a sea lion in a cheese head hat, Camp Randall stadium and the state capital building. Artist Joe Scola travels the country painting a localized mural at every new Goldfish School location.

“I think there’s a lot of unique things about goldfish,” Liras said. “Like any industry, there are different fits for different families. I definitely think we have enough of a niche that families will find a good environment here.”

Contact Neal Patten, Community Reporter, at