Second grade students from four Escambia County elementary schools were invited to the University of West Florida Aquatic Center recently to get a lesson in basic water safety skills.
What they learned could potentially save their life or someone else’s.
The Water and Youth Safety Day event is held twice each year for second-graders in the Escambia County School District, as part of their required physical education curriculum.
Getting a turn this spring are about 450 students from Ensley, Lipscomb, Ferry Pass, and Scenic Heights.
“How you guys doin(g)? Good to see you…Water Safety Day!,” exclaimed Jack Lynch, president of Water and Youth Safety, Pensacola, one of the organizers of the event, as he enthusiastically greeted the kids from Scenic Heights as they file in; 'high fives' all around.
“Water Safety Day is a little program that started with the Pensacola Association of Realtors, and we had PAR members going to second grade classrooms, because that’s when kids learned about water safety,” Lynch said.
Initially, the groups provided a lesson on water safety and gave out some vouchers for swim lessons. In 2012, they discovered International Water Safety Day and eventually added the additional element of their Water Safety Day event.
Lynch says the field trip to a local pool still comes after their classroom lesson on water safety, which typically is held a day earlier. It’s a fun presentation done by Lynch and co-organizer Harry Walker, and a large floaty called Howard the Duck.
“We start off with where do you find water, can you drown in a bathtub,” asked Lynch before answering, “Yes you can.”
The classroom session also tells the students about the flags down at the beach and what they mean and how important it is to swim where a lifeguard is. Additionally, when there’s doubt about how deep the water is, It’s feet first, first time.”
At this Water Safety Day event, there are three stations for the students. At one stop, a lifeguard provides beach safety instruction. Then, the kids watch a Disney video about water safety, featuring Timon and Pumbaa, characters from the Lion King.
At another station, the youngsters get a chance to get into the pool with volunteers from local swim teams, including the Greater Pensacola Aquatic Club and Seastars Aquatics, to get a feel for the water and go through some basics.
“They’re taking the second graders, and doing a quick evaluation,” said Lynch, as he ran down a checklist. “Will they put their face in the water? Can they blow bubbles? Can they kick on the side?”
For some, the big accomplishment might just be getting their face wet; for others it might be learning how to float.
According to Lynch, another important lesson for the kids is what to do when they encounter another little person in the water who’s in trouble.
“Their tendency is to jump in and save them, and that’s the absolute wrong thing to do. So, we teach them “Throw, Don’t Go.”
That means finding something to throw in the water that can be used to pull the other person out. “But, under NO circumstances do you go in and try to help,” because the rescuer can wind in trouble, too.
“Throw, Don’t Go” is the final station for the kids. It’s where we find Casandra Waller, Physical Education Specialist with the Escambia County School District
Waller walks the students through the details of they’ll be doing here, getting a chance to act as the one who needs to be rescued, by yelling for help, and also serving as the rescuer who finds something to throw to swimmer in trouble, rather than jumping in.
The adult swimmers demonstrate. Then, the kids take a turn in both roles.
For the rescue, Waller tells the kids that lifesavers, pool noodles, ropes and common household items, such as brooms, can all be used to pull someone to safety.
“Some of these kids when they come here, their fingers are gripped into the edge of the pool,” said Waller, noting that by the time they leave, you see them in the water, three to four feet off from the edge. “The whole point of this is to give them the opportunity to get into the pool, get around water and take that fear away. When we take the fear away, we save lives.”
Penny Cory was one of several family members who attended the water safety event. She came to watch her eight-year-old grandson Caleb Massey and his Scenic Heights schoolmates.
“I think it’s great because they all need to know water safety,” said Cory pointing out that Caleb already knows how to swim and often joins his family at the local YMCA.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional death among children under 14. It’s a statistic that event organizers would like to change.
“You know what, if we can save one life it’s well worth it,” said Lynch. He points out that water safety education is important in general, adding that the need is particularly great in this coastal community.
“There are 11,000 homes in Escambia County with a pool and/or a hot tub and another 24,000 that live around water. You can’t get away from water if you live in Pensacola, Florida, so it’s important for the kids to know how to be safe around water.”
Although, the water safety event is not designed to teach the second graders how to swim, Lynch says he hopes it will be an incentive for many of them to one day ‘take the plunge’ and learn.