Water Safety Program Completes Inaugural Session
Swimming pool accidents and drowning rates are higher in the inner city than in other communities. And, according to statistics compiled by the USA Swimming Foundation, "nearly six out of 10 African American and Hispanic/Latino children are unable to swim, nearly twice as many as their Caucasian counterparts." Additionally, says the foundation, "children from non-swimming households are eight times more likely to be at-risk of drowning."
To combat these statistics, LAUSD's Bethune Middle School has begun a program in partnership with the LK Foundation, to teach swimming and water safety to their students.
"This program is possible, in part, because of the January 6 re-opening of Bethune's swimming pool–the only one at an LAUSD middle school," said LAUSD District 1 Board Member Marguerite LaMotte. "We are grateful that after 15 years of closure and considerable repairs, completed by our Facilities Division, we are able, once again, to use this resource to improve the lives of our students. And, we are thankful for our partnership with the LK Foundation."
The program is held four hours a day, three days a week during intersession, the 4-week break between semesters on the year-round calendar. The current class includes 64 students who receive two hours of daily instruction in the eight-foot deep pool, from three certified instructors and two hours of water safety instruction, from twoLAUSD teachers.
Developed by the LK Foundation and its President, four-time Olympic Gold Medal swimmer Lenny Krayzelburg, the program receives funding from the LA 84 Foundation and the USA Swimming Foundation's "Make A Splash Program," an educational campaign designed to increase water safety.
Krayzelburg, who moved to the U.S. at age 13 and graduated from Bancroft Middle and Fairfax High Schools, said he wanted to share his talent with others as well as provide kids in low income neighborhoods the opportunity to learn water safety, so they will be able to save themselves and others, should the need arise. He said he is also hopeful that this exposure will cause students to become interested in the sport of swimming.
Karla Barrios, one of Bethune's young Social Studies and ESL teachers and a high school swimmer, jumped at the opportunity to participate in the program. In her classroom, students learn about the various bodies of water–lakes, rivers, oceans and swimming pools–and how to stay safe in each, as well as how to recognize hazards which may cause accidents. Barrios also teaches the basics of artificial respiration.
The students involved in the inaugural program said they are enjoying the experience and the benefits provided.
Timothy, a 13 year-old, said the most fun to him was learning to float. "If I get better at it," I'll continue swimming.
With an 18 year-old sister as a lifeguard, Victor, a 12 year old, who has been swimming for seven years, said he has been interested in swimming for some time and used the class as opportunity to learn more about water safety.
Anisa, a tiny 11 year-old, has relatives with pools and said she was unable to participate in family pool activities until now. "If I go somewhere, now I feel I can help someone if they need it," she said.
Tamry, a 14 year-old, is excited about the program. "After 3 weeks, I can swim and dive into the pool," she said.
Tony Grutman, Executive Director of the LK Foundation and on-site administrator of the program, said he has seen changes in the students since they started the program. Students have approached him about starting an after-school swim team.
"In addition to boosting the self esteem of students and providing them with another mode of exercise, we are hopeful that the discipline instilled by learning to swim, will encourage kids to take a more discipline approach to their academic subjects," said Grutman.
The foundation, which plans to train 960 Bethune students by the end of '09, is also hoping that the program will become a model for improving water safety for middle and high school students.