CARTHAGE, Mo. — The Lamar High School girls swim team took a break from practicing laps earlier this week to help a new generation of swimmers become acclimated to the water.
A group of boys and girls from Fairview Elementary School demonstrated what they learned from the Safety Around Water program that they’ve been taking at the Fair Acres YMCA indoor pool. The program teaches second graders how to perform four lifesaving techniques in case they find themselves in a dangerous situation in a body of water.
Fair Acres YMCA has partnered with the Carthage School District for the past three years to provide the free program, which aims to teach children basics such as floating, treading water and how to jump in.
The YMCA receives an annual $2,500 grant from the Carthage Community Foundation to offset the cost of supplies and training, while the school district provides the transportation, said Jonathan Roberts, executive director and CEO of Fair Acres.
“One of our three spotlight programs is Safety Around Water, and what we did is took that national model and geared it to what would work for us locally,” he said. “Second grade is a good time because they’re doing a little more listening and they’re starting to grow.”
Drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional injury death in U.S. children ages 1 to 14, according to the World Health Organization. Each child enrolled in the Carthage program receives at least three hours of training and then must demonstrate what they learned in a final test.
By the end of the program, students have to tread water for 30 seconds, float on their back for 30 seconds, perform a forward swim for 25 yards, and push off the bottom of the pool after jumping in and swim toward the ledge.
“I feel better around water, and now I want to go swimming all the time,” said Dax Stiles, 8. “It’s fun.”
Tuesday was the children’s final day at the pool, and they were assisted by members of the Lamar girls swim team. Junior Kaitlyn Davis, 17, helped motivate the youngsters as they swam toward the ladder.
“I love little kids, and they’re very energetic,” she said. “The most rewarding thing about this is seeing their smiles. You can tell they really enjoy it and that they’re having a fun time. They want to be here.”
Ronna Patterson, principal at Fairview Elementary, said swimming is an important life skill to learn at a young age.
“Our students have really enjoyed this opportunity because it’s not about swim lessons, it’s about water safety,” she said. “We’re in an area with lakes and rivers, so the chance of our kids being around water at any time is pretty high. It really comes down to keeping our kids safe and giving them life skills.”
Last year, 100 of 382 children participating in the program from Carthage passed the final test, and another 134 children showed improvement from the first day of the program to the last day.
Roberts said those numbers show the program accomplishes its overall mission.
“We have a lot of kids that come in who are terrified to even put their feet in the water, and we have more lifeguards in the pool than we’ll ever have,” he said. “We have two to three at each station, and they still won’t get in the water. At the end of the day, our goal is to acclimate them to the water, to ease their fears and (give them) the skills to do it.”
Each second grade student who completes the Safety Around Water program receives a water safety certificate and a coupon for swim lessons at the Fair Acres Family YMCA.