Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Trying to reduce drowning rate

YMCA tests children’s swimming lesson program

Express Staff Writer

Swimming instructor Mary Corrock works with student Maya Olizano at the Wood River YMCA in Ketchum. Photo by David N. Seelig

Amy Federko is well aware that Idaho's young children have the second highest drowning rate in the nation, second only to Florida, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"You'd be surprised at the number of non-swimmers we have," said Federko, aquatics director for the Wood River Community YMCA.

Federko has finished a six-week pilot program, called Make a Splash, that has provided free swimming lessons for all third-graders of Ernest Hemingway Elementary School.

She said children usually learn to swim by the third grade, but 22 of the 72 Hemingway third-graders are "never-evers," meaning they've never even been in water deeper than their heads. Children are completing their final weekly lessons this week.

"Every one of the kids can now swim the entire length of the pool," she said. "The children are ecstatic."

The Y has a 25-yard lap pool, and Red Cross-certified instructors oversee all lessons, never exceeding a 6-to-1 student ratio. The program is modeled after a national YMCA initiative.

The Y and Blaine County School District are picking up the cost. Federko said The Y only had enough money for Hemingway students this year, but she'd like to bring the program to all third-graders in the county next year. However, to do that she needs to find more money.

"We're trying to get some people to sponsor this program," she said.

In addition to swimming lessons in the controlled environment of a pool, students are taught the safety skills needed for the area's rivers, canals and cold lakes.

According to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare's latest long-term drowning study, most drowning deaths in the state between 1999 and 2007 occurred in rivers and creeks.

Trevon Milliard:

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