Safety Around Water

Free class aims to provide second graders with the basics

By Lauren Newlin
Photos: Vance County Schools

Safety Around Water (SAW), which started out as Save Our Kids, is a joint program between Henderson-Vance Recreation and Parks and Henderson Family YMCA in North Carolina. The program is in its seventh year and has allowed more than 3,350 children to participate in swimming lessons and safety-training classes, with continued support from the Triangle North Foundation, which has donated $48,000 in grants to help with the program’s expenses.

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Val Short, Executive Director of the Triangle North Healthcare Foundation, Inc., says her company continues to invest in this program because it “is comforting to know that at some point in the future, every student in Vance County will have received the benefit of this very important program that enables second graders to overcome their fear of water and teaches them skills to be able to respond to water emergencies. We … are glad to support a program that has such an important and far-reaching impact on the safety of kids in our communities.”

A Goal In Mind
The program, which began as basic swimming lessons, has evolved into a water-safety program. Each session begins at the children’s school with lessons that include basic pool rules, how to call 911 and what to say, and backyard pool safety, to name a few. After an in-school safety lesson, participants go to either the Aycock Recreation Center pool or Henderson Family YMCA pool to take five swimming/safety lessons. The main goal is for students to be able to save themselves or help a friend in need if the occasion arises. Each participant is evaluated on the first and last day in the water to see how much they have improved. After the final evaluation, participants may have a free swim; this is an important rite of passage because we not only want the children to be safe in water, but want them to be able to have fun and enjoy themselves in a different environment.

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Changes And Additions
Various changes and additions have been made. For instance, originally there was a $10 fee per child; however, that was dropped after the first year, and the program is now free. Bathing suits and towels are still provided if participants are unable to bring them. The program that began with all 10 of the public elementary schools’ second graders has expanded this year to include a charter school, which means an additional 120 second graders will be able to participate in swimming/safety lessons each year.

The curriculum has evolved over the years as well. Basic swimming skills continue, such as blowing bubbles, going under with bobs, kicking on both the front and back, arm strokes, and floating on the front and back. Jumping in—both assisted and unassisted in the 4-foot and 10-foot areas, are still favorites among the children. Other elements include the “Reach or Throw, Don’t Go” from the American Red Cross Whale’s Tales, and lifejacket fitting, which allows participants on the last day to have fun even if they are not 100 percent swimming on their own yet. The biggest addition is the jump-turn-bounce method, where children jump in the water, turn around, and bounce back to the side. This is most helpful, not only in pools with participants who cannot swim unassisted, but in lakes or rivers if footing gives way and children wander too far out.

Continuing The Climb
It is the hope that, by the end of the sessions, all participants are comfortable enough to swim unassisted; some will not, but all will have gained experience and made tremendous progress. The exposure the children get—some for the first time ever—is the most rewarding thing to witness.

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 success its first year. In the four years that followed, Henderson-Vance Recreation and Parks Department, along with Henderson Family YMCA, has been recognized as a Shining Moment Partner by the Vance County Schools, and in 2016 and 2017, both the parks and recreation department and the YMCA were given the Shining Moment Award. The awards let us know that we are moving in the right direction with the program and putting children first; We will continue our climb to excellence with community outreach and effervescence.

Lauren Newlin is the Aquatic Program Supervisor for the Henderson-Vance Recreation and Parks Department in Henderson, N.C. Reach her at lnewlin@ci.henderson.nc.us.