By Greg Ellison
(Oct. 3, 2019) Aiming to reduce child drownings is the intent of a three-day water safety course starting this week for fourth graders conducted by the Ocean Pines Aquatics Department.
Ocean Pines Operations Director Colby Phillips said the first wave of students from Buckingham Elementary School are scheduled this week and next from Tuesday through Thursday at the indoor Sports Complex Pool.
“Drowning is one of the number one causes of death in children,” she said.
The water safety program was launched last year through a partnership with the Worcester County Board of Education and the Worcester County Commissioners.
“Last year, the county commissioners approved funding along with the board of education,” She said. “You have to have that support there in order to be able to take the kids out of school and pay for it.”
Also participating are fourth graders from Berlin Intermediate School on Oct. 22-24 and Oct. 28-30, and Ocean City Elementary School on Nov. 19-21 and Dec. 3-5.
“Our purpose is to bring them in and teach them about water safety, from save yourself in a pool, to what would you do if you walked on the ice and fell in,” she said.
Assisting the safety-focused educational effort are members of the Ocean City Beach Patrol and the Ocean Pines Fire Department.
“The Ocean Pines Fire Department comes in and we talk about 911 emergencies [and] first aid, so we really try and focus a lot on situations not only just in the pool, but when we’re surrounded by water.”
The knowledge base extends beyond pool facilities.
“We want to make sure that we’re educating the kids on all forms of water safety,” she said. “It’s been a great team effort with the whole community [in] Worcester County.”
Topics covered include survival swimming skills, beach safety tips, basic first aid and how to assist distressed swimmers.
On Tuesday, a throng of fourth graders from Buckingham Elementary descended on the Sports Complex Pool to kick off the instruction.
Although already an adept swimmer, fourth grader Mya Douglas said she appreciated the opportunity to use and improve those abilities should the need to render aid arise.
“I’m excited to learn how to save someone if they are drowning,” she said.
Douglas said her cohorts are enthused about spending two hours for the next three days having fun while gaining water safety skills.
“The whole class seems excited,” she said.
Phillips said she has worked to develop the water safety course since coming on board as the Ocean Pines Aquatics Director in 2014, and that course is now entering its second year.
“This program has been something that’s really important to myself since I started in Ocean Pines,” she said.
After holding the inaugural courses for the trio of area schools last fall, Phillips said another batch of students would be instructed this week.
“We’re hitting a whole new group of kids,” she said.
The training sessions for nine and ten-year-olds are often the precursor to youths taking swimming lessons or other aquatic pursuits.
“We have our Junior Lifeguard program,” she said. “We’re kind of that first step.”
The safety course is vital to area children who, despite residing on the coast, might not have ready access to water-based recreational activities.
“The nice thing with hitting the public schools is you get kids that might not be able to afford a swim lesson,” she said.