For many kids, summer is more about taking a break from school than remembering what they learned during the past year. In select districts across the country, however, educators are implementing water safety and swimming instruction into their curricula, with the hope that such lessons stick with students as they ditch backpacks for bathing suits.
Third-graders from the San Miguel Elementary School, part of the Sunnyvale school district near San José, Calif., for example, received a week of free swim lessons from a local YMCA earlier this month. Part of the YMCA’s SPLASH program, the lessons taught the students basic swimming and water safety skills. San Miguel Elementary primarily serves Hispanic and Filipino students, many from low-income families.
A similar partnership began in late May between the Killeen Independent School District in Killeen, Texas, and the area’s Armed Services YMCA. The partnership involved in-class water safety instruction for 3rd graders from a district elementary school, followed by lifeguard-taught swim lessons. It also served as a pilot program, one that the district is considering implementing to all its elementary schools, according to the Harker Heights Herald.
And in Gainesville, Ga., the Hall County school district and two nearby YMCA branches provided lessons via their Learn to Swim programs to hundreds of students throughout the county.
Those partnerships and programs came nearly one year after the American Red Cross launched a campaign to reduce the rate of drowning by 50 percent across 50 U.S. cities. A survey conducted for the Red Cross last year also found that while 80 percent of Americans say they can swim, only 56 percent can perform the full range of basic water safety skills, such as exiting the pool without a ladder or swimming the length of a standard pool without stopping.
Of particular concern is the low level of swimming competency among African-American respondents, two-thirds of who said they couldn’t perform the full range of basic water safety skills. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control found that, between 2005 and 2009, the rate of fatal unintentional—meaning non-boat related—drowning among African-American children aged 5 to 14 was nearly three times higher than that for white children of the same age.
Drowning is the second leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 4, falling only behind birth defects, according to the CDC. Drowning is also the second most common unintentional injury-related death among children ages 14 and under. Youths within that age range account for nearly 20 percent of all non-boating related drowning fatalities.
One of the best ways to reduce the odds of drowning, according to The Red Cross, is through formal swimming lessons, a tip Cassandra Pinkney is using for her students.
Pinkney founded Eagle Academy Public Charter School, a pre-K through 3rd grade charter located in a majority African-American neighborhood in Washington. Across the school’s two locations, Pinkney has made learning to swim a requirement for the school’s more than 900 students, the majority of whom are African-American, a story further reported on by ABC7.
Infographic: American Red Cross
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.