Reader's View, water safety: Swim lessons are a small price to pay to save a child's life

July 2, 2013 

The summer has begun, and already we have had the tragedy of a 6-year-old boy drowning. Our hearts and thoughts go out to the family.

Sadly, last year at least three other children drowned in the still water of pools or ponds, as was the case in this drowning. This pool was fenced off. Kids are drawn to water, and the hot weather makes the draw even stronger.

As the summer goes on and the temperatures rise, thousands of Valley kids and families will seek the cooling feel of water. It only takes minutes for a child to get out of adult supervision and into trouble. Unfortunately, many lack the basic swimming and water safety skills that are not difficult to teach.

Statistically, Idaho has one of the worst drowning rates in the nation, and drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death in this country. We know that about 60 percent of minorities do not know how to swim, and that minority populations drown at more than three times the rate of the rest of the population.

We know what the cure is to this terrible problem. It is teaching kids to swim and to be safe in and around the water. No child should die simply because they do not know how to swim. The point is that any body of water is potentially dangerous to a nonswimmer, so our efforts should focus on the root cause - teaching people to swim.

It is relatively inexpensive to teach a child to swim and to learn basic water safety skills, including proper use of life jackets and reaching and throwing assists. We know it works as at the YMCA we have taught every third-grader in the Caldwell School District to swim in each of the past four years, through the USA Swimming Foundation Make-A-Splash initiative. We are spreading this to other area schools, and last year, with the support of partners like the Jeker Foundation and USA Swimming Foundation, reached more than 1,200 kids in the 21 Valley schools with the most free and reduced school lunch students.

Another 6,000 people learn to swim at the Y each year in regular swim lessons. Along with parks and rec departments, local colleges and universities, we are successful in providing basic swimming and water safety skills to nearly 90 percent of kids who take the eight-week session.

It costs less than $850 to teach water safety to a class of 30 kids, including transportation costs - a pretty small price to pay. Beyond the lifesaving skills and the lifelong joy and great exercise swimming brings, there are other benefits.

Teachers, whose students get to participate in the Make-A-Splash program, tell us classroom behavior and self-esteem improve in their students, and attendance goes up. Particularly with some of the students who are struggling with school, we have seen academic performance improve.

Water is such an important part of our state. It supports our agricultural sector, provides recreational opportunities, and adds beauty across our diverse landscape. And, while it brings us great joy, it also can be dangerous. Let's put our resources and energies toward real solutions and support programs that teach kids and families, regardless of their ability to pay, how to swim, have fun and be safe around the water.

Jim Everett is CEO, Treasure Valley Family YMCA and former chair YMCA National Swimming and Diving Committee. Sharon Allen is chairman of the board YMCA of the USA and former chair, Board of Directors, Treasure Valley Family YMCA. Bruce Stratton is president, USA Swimming and former member, Board of Directors, Treasure Valley Family YMCA.

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