Life-Saving Lessons

By Lauren Newlin
Photos Courtesy Of Vance County School Board

Every day, about 10 people die from unintentional drowning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of these fatalities, two are children aged 14 or younger. Drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury or death in the United States. For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency-department care for nonfatal-submersion injured, the CDC states.


“Save Our Kids” is a joint program offered through the Henderson-Vance Parks and Recreation Department and the Henderson YMCA in North Carolina. The goal of the program is to educate second graders in all 10 elementary schools in Vance County on basic swim instruction and water-safety education. With help from the county school board, 550 to 600 children participated in the program in its first year, and another 216 have gone through the lesson program since the beginning of this year.

To participate, each school group takes five separate field trips to the aquatic facility closest to the respective school for a 45-minute lesson. Students are instructed by American Red Cross certified lifeguards and water-safety instructors with a ratio of 12 students per instructor with several volunteers on the side. Each session presents a new lesson modeled toward the goal of being safe in and around the water. The swimming lessons include practicing water-safety skill and swim instruction based on the participants’ skill level.

The cost for the entire five-lesson program is $10. This fee covers the instructors, the facility, and the cost of transportation. If a family is not able to pay this fee, grants, donations, and fundraising events help. Triangle North Healthcare Foundation granted $5,000 to the program, while an annual golf tournament, “Swing to Swim,” took in $5,000 to $6,000. The Optimist Club donated swim suits for children who could not afford to purchase their own. Towels are provided by the YMCA.

One example of the water-safety lessons is “Reach or Throw, Don’t Go” from the American Red Cross Whale’s Tales. In this lesson, instructors teach the importance of staying out of danger while helping a friend who is in distress in the water. Instructors demonstrate multiple ways to assist someone without having to go in the water, such as using towels and swimming noodles as well as their own arms and legs to pull someone to safety. Students are also reminded to call for help, and to never swim alone. Each participant then has an opportunity to practice assisting a fellow classmate to safety by pulling him or her to the side of the pool.

Another motto, “Think so you don’t sink,” teaches students to float on their backs in an emergency situation. This lesson provides for an airway to breathe as well as the breath to call for help. This floating skill is combined with jumping in the pool, so if—by accident—a student falls in, he or she will not sink.

In the final week, students swim with or without a lifejacket at their own pace. Although every child will not be able to swim laps at this time, the intent of the program is to give them the skills to survive in the water. The goal is that they will return to a nearby facility and continue their education.

In November 2013, the North Carolina School Boards Association named the parks and recreation department, the YMCA, and the Optimist Club to its Business and Nonprofit Honor Roll in recognition of the program’s successful first year.

Lauren Newlin is the aquatic director for the Henderson-Vance Recreation and Parks Department in North Carolina. Reach her at .