Feature Article - July 2011
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Making Waves

New Strides in Aquatic Safety

By Jessica Royer Ocken

Educating Users

Another powerful tool in the fight against drowning—as well as an excellent means of promoting overall safety—is making sure your facility has educated and informed users. This means clearly developing, posting and enforcing the safety standards and rules you deem appropriate for your pool (check with the American Red Cross and your state health department to be sure yours have everything covered), as well as encouraging those who come to swim, and their parents, to be knowledgeable about handling themselves in the water.

A number of organizations are making news where aquatic education is concerned, and their efforts can provide you with lots of ideas about getting your own facility involved.

The Make a Splash campaign, organized by the USA Swimming Foundation, is a child-focused water safety program that works with local swim lesson providers around the country to help every child learn to swim. Goals include educating parents about water safety and providing scholarships for children who might not otherwise have access to a learn-to-swim program.

The Colorado Springs Swim School is a local partner with Make a Splash, and owner Tina Dessart said they've had a great experience during their three years with the program. "Last year alone about 150 students got lessons this way," she said. "That's eight classes for each child."

The swim school was already offering a free "Learn to Swim" day each quarter to educate the community, which they continue to do. "That doesn't mean you learn to swim in one day, but it's an opportunity for people to come in and get to know the program and instructors, to see what we do," she said. "We provide information on water safety to parents and provide information on scholarships so [their kids] can turn around and participate in the lessons we have going on."

The Colorado Springs Swim School has also recently partnered with the largest local school district to create a program that will help those students learn to swim, and they also get the word out by including the Make a Splash logo on the Web site and in local advertising as well.

Another issue currently making waves in the world of swim lessons and aquatic user education is teaching the tiniest tots. Until recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) was opposed to swim lessons for children under 3. "In the past, the AAP advised against swimming lessons for children ages 1 to 3 because there was little evidence that lessons prevented drowning or resulted in better swim skills, and there was a concern parents would become less vigilant about supervising a child who had learned some swimming skills," explains a May 17, 2010, statement from the organization.

However, recent studies have produced scientific evidence that shows young children who have had some formal swimming instruction are less likely to drown, so the AAP has revised its position to be more open to the possibility of teaching the smallest children.

"Children need to learn to swim," said Jeffrey Weiss, M.D., FAAP, lead author of the AAP's new policy statement. "But even advanced swimming skills cannot 'drown-proof' a child of any age. Parents must also closely supervise their children around water and know how to perform CPR. A four-sided fence around the pool is essential."