Feature Article - February 2006
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Special Supplement: A Complete Guide to Aquatic Centers

Just Add Water

By Kelli Anderson


Aquatic centers these days have become all things to all people, not only offering water options but expanding to include community services of all shapes and sizes.

One water facility in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a 50-year-old industry veteran, the Jack Nelson Swim School, has expanded its safety training for children beyond water and surf.

"We wanted to reach out to the community," says Dan Vawter, head coach and marketing director of the facility. "If you can have kids interact with police officers and those involved with safety, it makes a lot of difference."

Drawing in both parents and children to learn about everything from stranger danger to drugs, the swim school is drawing in those who might not otherwise darken its doorway and equipping them with invaluable knowledge beyond water issues. It's a win-win situation. In deciding what kinds of courses to offer, however, Vawter recommends a tailored approach.

"You've got to regionalize it," Vawter explains. "Here in south Florida, water is all around, and boating is huge. In Colorado, you might want to do something about hiking. Focus on what kids are doing—we do more than just swim."

But not all children in a community can afford to attend safety classes—especially those who need it most, minority and underprivileged populations. According to the most recent statistics from 2002, 40 percent of children who die from drowning were minority children.

Factors of race, class, culture, privilege and poverty all add up to a population who's access to aquatic facilities and lessons is the most limited. In short, children from underprivileged and minority groups can't afford swim lessons and drown in disproportionate numbers because of it.

"We just realized recently that minority drownings are huge," Vawter says. "We are offering scholarships to fund kids who can't go and think other aquatic facilities can do the same—open a fund for water safety for underprivileged kids to reach inner cities. A lot of municipalities forget about that."

Diversity of kids and diversity of classes are what aquatic facilities can strive for to make the biggest positive impact on their communities. Although the following list reflects what safety classes best serve those in south Florida, many safety issues are universal:

  • Swimming Safety—water safety, water play
  • Stranger Danger—including the growing awareness of the need for Internet safety
  • Fire Safety
  • Bicycle Safety—including pedestrian, inline and skateboard safety
  • D.A.R.E—drug prevention
  • CPR Training
  • Beach Safety
  • Child-Seat Safety
  • Fingerprint Documentation
  • Boating Safety

For more information on minority drowning statistics and water safety training for children, visit the United States Swim Schools Association: www.usswimschools.org.