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All county second graders learning 'Safety Around Water'

Instructors teach children water safety at the Hendersonville YMCA pool.

During a bright and sunny late summer day at the Hendersonville YMCA, 8-year-old Coa Myers proudly announced that he had learned how to cup water with his hands to swim back to safety.

His classmate, Lauren Miller chimed in, “It’s really important to know because it helps you tread water if you get tired.”

These students from Mills River Elementary School, along with every other second grader in Henderson County Public Schools, are learning life-saving and life-changing water safety skills, thanks to a collaborative partnership between the Hendersonville Family YMCA and the district.

Designed to collaboratively prevent drowning incidents, the YMCA’s national “Safety Around Water” program reaches children who are statistically at the highest risk of drowning and teaches them how to stay safe in and around water. And now, it’s being incorporated into HCPS’ whole-child education programming.

“We recognize that providing equitable access to this program is a way we can proactively support the safety of our students, even when they’re not in our care, by instilling potentially life-saving lessons at a critical age,” said Superintendent Dr. John Bryant. “That’s why HCPS is covering both the transportation and registration costs for all our 2nd graders to participate, at no cost to them or their families.”

In June, the Henderson County School Board reviewed and approved the “Safety Around Water” program presented by Hendersonville Family YMCA’s executive director, LoriKay Paden, voting to cover the costs for all 914 second-graders in the district to participate.

“Incorporating water safety lessons into our schools’ regular programming is something I’ve been passionate about for a while, so it’s very exciting to work with the local YMCA to make this possible for our kids,” School Board Chair Blair Craven said.

As a result, students with widely varying levels of swimming experience or exposure to water are learning important skills, including basic and survival swim skills, like pushing off the bottom of the pool to resurface (“Jump, Push, Turn, Grab”) and a method of swimming on the front and on the back, (“Swim, Float, Swim”).

“Drowning is one of the leading causes of death in children,” said Amy Lynn Holt, the School Board's vice chair. “I'm so proud of our district for working with the YMCA and Ms. Paden to make it safer for our students to be in and around water."

As the nation’s leading swim instructor, the YMCA is committed to giving kids the tools they need to prevent tragedy. The YMCA’s “Safety Around Water” program is different from a standard ‘learn to swim’ class in that it focuses on teaching young children what to do if they unexpectedly find themselves in the water.

“They learn what to look for in a safe place to swim, how to swim a short distance on their front, how to roll over onto their back to rest and then roll on their front again to reach safety,” said Eryn Thostenson, the YMCA's aquatics director.

Sessions occur over four consecutive weeks with up to 40 students per session. In the first session, instructors visit the classroom, cover water depth, safety markings, pool rules, and the concepts of “Swim, Float, Swim” and “Jump, Push, Turn, Grab.” The remaining sessions are all held at the YMCA Hendersonville campus and include comfort in the water, and stroke development.

The course is taught by certified instructors and lifeguards and every child receives a certificate of completion and a considerable dose of new confidence around the water.

Take for example, Cooper Hartle, a second grader from Mills River Elementary. “I received a note from his mom that he was really terrified of the water,” said Sarah Clayton, Cooper’s teacher. “That first week, he hung on to the sides of the pool, and the second week he slowly progressed a bit more. We didn’t push him. We just let him find his own comfort level, and now there he is this week out there swimming with the instructor."

“It’s so impressive what these instructors can do with this many kids in these 40-minute sessions,” said Ryan Mitchell, another second-grade teacher at Mills River Elementary. “Ten years from now these kids are going to be somewhere at a lake or a pool, and they may be in a situation where what they’ve learned here will be invaluable."

“Having Henderson County Public Schools provide this opportunity to our community's youth will be beneficial beyond the obvious life-saving skills,” said Thostenson. “Today, we worked with 77 kids with a variety of comfort levels and the highlights were that we had one student who was reluctant to work with our instructors, but today he left the edge of the pool with us.”

Thostenson said another student learned how to slide in and out of the pool on her own. “For these and so many other achievements, we are grateful to Henderson County Public Schools for their vision and we look forward to fostering these relationships for years to come," she said.