Letter: Swim lessons needed to avoid tragedy
The recent drowning of six teenagers in Louisiana was a preventable tragedy. Swimming is a lifetime skill which everyone should learn, regardless of age. Unfortunately, the Middle Peninsula has very few pools and even fewer instructors. For the past 10 years I had the honor of being one of the instructors in the Gloucester County second grade swim program offered at the Wellness Center. This coming school year the program will cease to exist due to budget cuts and time constraints.
Ten years ago out of an average class of 20 students we would have approximately four kids who couldn’t swim enough to save their own lives. This past year we were averaging 15! This is unforgivable in an area that has water on three sides!
I understand and believe that it is not the responsibility of the school system or government to teach swimming. That is something that is a parental responsibility from a very early age. Unfortunately, due to inherent fear of the water, cost, or inaccessibility of a swim program, a majority of the children on the Middle Peninsula cannot swim well enough to save their own lives.
I hope that it won’t take a tragedy like in Louisiana or the death of a child like in the national program "The Josh Project" to start a movement to increase enrollment in our area swim classes. The Wellness Center offers year-round swim classes. The Mathews Y and the Gloucester Red Cross offer classes in the summer.
But these programs only reach a small percentage of children on the Middle Peninsula. That is why the second grade program was so invaluable. We literally taught every second grader in Gloucester County over the last 10 plus years. We insisted that students were inundated with basic water safety: Think so you don’t sink, look before you leap, don’t just pack it wear your jacket, reach or throw—don’t go. This way they were at least "water safe" and knew enough to maybe prevent a tragedy like the one in Louisiana.
I have lived in this area for over 25 years and have been part of many, many conversations and committees to build another pool using county funds, fundraisers or private donations, but so far none have come to fruition. The Wellness Center is an excellent facility but is limited due to its small size. The Middle Peninsula needs a competition pool (six to eight marked lanes of either 25 yards or meters) with a deep end in which we can teach lifeguarding, safe diving, and swim lessons for all children on the Middle Peninsula.
The time has come for us to give some serious thought to the health and safety of all our children and citizens. A pool is not a luxury but a necessity. If you doubt me just think about the parents of those six kids in Louisiana.