School district launches water safety program in third grade

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By Andrea Kelley

The newspaper

SENECA – Screams echoed from the walls of the Foothills Area YMCA as 45 third graders jumped into the pool on Tuesday.

Instructors bring their respective groups of third-graders together for lessons as part of the Oconee County School District Water Safety Program. The Foothills Area YMCA pool is separate and students rotate between stations weekly. (Lauren Pierce | The Journal)

Week two of the water safety lessons for James M. Brown Elementary School was fully underway – or partially underwater.

Every third grade student in the Oconee County School District will learn water safety and survival skills such as how to save themselves and others and properly use a personal flotation device, tactics for surviving in the water cold and boating safety, thanks to a partnership between the YMCA and the school district.

All 90 third-grade students under James M. Brown’s principal Ashley Robertson are participating in the classes, which she says is particularly beneficial since the county has many bodies of water.

“I don’t think these kids cognitively realize or cross, like canoeing for example, ‘What if it sinks or I have to get onto my side and get up?’,” He said. she said, gesturing towards a group of students, calmly straightening a sinking canoe.

“Throw a noodle or a life jacket at a friend – how often do we have drownings in Oconee County swimming pools?” She continued. “Just teaching a friend how to throw a life jacket or noodle without endangering yourself is also powerful.”

Nearby, a volunteer instructor demonstrated how to create a ‘float mat’ formation, where swimmers connect their arms and legs to conserve body heat and ensure no one separates from the group.

“These volunteers are absolutely amazing,” said Robertson. “They’ve been so great with our kids all the time – very patient, laughing… I mean our kids love them. And volunteering your time to do so is great to see in our community. “

John Derwent, executive director of the Y campus, said the organization has a core of 10 volunteers who he hopes will teach throughout the school year.

“We have two staff in the water (and) the rest are all community volunteers – seniors who participate in our in-water fitness program, members who just wanted to give back,” a- he declared. “The goal is to have the majority of them throughout the school year, as they will become more familiar with the whole program and their curriculum.

Volunteers were required to take a swim test, pass a background check and complete a two-and-a-half-hour orientation before being approved to teach, according to Derwent.

Each instructor has six students grouped together according to their level of experience in the water, Derwent said, and each level has its own curriculum.

Long term benefits

The partnership between the school district and the YMCA is long in the making, said district spokesperson Jennifer Dodd.

“We agreed as a district to help them fund a total of $ 3 million – $ 150,000 a year for 20 years,” Dodd said.

In return, the Y will host high school swim teams and teach grade three water safety lessons each year.

“It’s a long-standing goal for us to be able to teach our kids to swim, because of the county we live in,” Dodd said. “There are so many lakes and rivers that you can’t get out of Oconee County in many ways without crossing some kind of body of water. We thought it was important for our students to know how to swim.

Water safety lessons were ready to go last year, she said. The timeline was set, the plans were made … and then the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

“It was one of the hardest things we had to put on hold last year,” Dodd said. “We were hoping to start this school year without COVID restrictions and then the peak happened so we had to put it on hold for the first nine weeks. But as our numbers went down, we thought this was one of the most valuable things we could reopen for. “

The 10 elementary schools in the district will alternate two-week periods at the pool. Each school will have six one-hour lessons – three one week and three the next.

Dodd said schools in the Walhalla area will start first, followed by schools in West-Oak, and then schools in Seneca.

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