Local students swimming to survive

Melissa Jenkins
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Carbonear Pool teaching water safety to all Grade 2s in Trinity Conception schools

It's a skill Rob Button believes every child should have - the ability to survive after falling in deep water.

Carbonear's director of recreation and tourism grew up around the pool. He took part in the swim team, was a lifeguard and swimming instructor and now he manages the Carbonear Swimming Pool, the same pool where he trained.

As the father of two young boys, Button knows the importance of preparing his and other children for situations around water, especially because we live on an island. That was one concern that led to the pilot program Swim to Survive.

Swim to Survive is an eight-hour introductory program for Grade 2 students in Trinity Conception. All 13 schools from Whitbourne to Bay de Verde to North River take part in four two-hour sessions of water safety, with half the time being spent in the pool and the other half on land.

Some parents and students have been apprehensive about the program, which is based on the Lifesaving Society (the Society) of Canada's guidelines and the Red Cross Peoplesaver course.

According to Button, the vast majority of kids who take part in the program have never been in a pool before.

The same day Button spoke with The Compass, two children from St. Peter's School in Upper Island Cove who were initially scared of taking part were jumping into the deep end with lifejackets on. St. Peter's and St. Francis School in Harbour Grace just completed their four-week programs.

There are three separate groups based on the skill level of the student - inexperienced swimmers, swimmers with some experience and experienced swimmers. However, it's not a swimming lesson. Rather, it's to teach them the basics of survival if they fall in the water or need help, including rolling into deep water, treading water for one minute and swimming 50 metres (two laps) of the pool.

"Swim to Survive is different than swimming lessons, and not a replacement for them. (It) teaches just the essentials needed to survive an unexpected fall into deep water, an important first step to being safe around water," the Society's website notes.

But it can be a stepping stone towards more water safety programming.

"We get parents coming back and signing their children up for swimming lessons after they've completed the program," Button said.

Classroom activities include teaching a child how to make a 911 phone call, memorizing their personal information and how to identify hazards such as fire, wire, gas and glass.

There's no cost for schools, allowing some 400 kids each year to participate. Funding comes from several sources to cover the cost of staff, transportation and any materials needed.

Although the program started in 2007, it has come a long way in eight years.

The first year saw Persalvic, Davis Elementary and Harbour Grace Primary take part in the program. In 2010, the provincial government supplied $10,000 to the facility to cover all schools in the region.

Provincial funding was eliminated last year after budget cuts were made due to the looming deficit. This year, however, Carbonear Pool partnered with the Canadian Tire Jumpstart program to fund the venture.

Button hopes the program is going to continue for many years, so everyone in the region over Grade 2 will have a general idea of how to stay water safe. He also hopes more facilities take advantage of the same program. "I have had some inquiries from other pools from all over the province," Button said. "It's a great program."

In 2013, there were 11 water-related deaths reported in the province, as per the Newfoundland and Labrador drowning report.

"By introducing swimming at a young age, we're hoping to decrease these numbers," Button said. And it's not just Button who wants to see the program continue. Parents have been telling him they are impressed by it. Some even want swimming lessons to be included in the school curriculum. "I hope we can continue what we are doing. Then, in the coming years, all children in the Baccalieu region will have some experience with water and water safety."

Melissa.jenkins@tc.tc

Organizations: Grade 2, Lifesaving Society, The Compass School in Upper Island Cove Francis School Canadian Tire Jumpstart

Geographic location: Peter, Whitbourne, Bay de Verde North River Canada Baccalieu

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