Patrick Chase, right, practices throwing a rescue float to Anthony Johnson as CSM Aquatics Center Manager and Water Safety Instructor Sam Fleming looks on. The students are fifth-graders in Cynthia Gianacopolos’s homeroom class at Dynard Elementary School in St. Mary’s County and participated in water safety training at the College of Southern Maryland’s Leonardtown Campus.
Fifth-grade students in all St. Mary’s County elementary schools are more aware and confident when in and around the water as a result of training offered through the College of Southern Maryland at the Leonardtown Campus Wellness and Aquatics Center.
“This is a fabulous program with children completely engaged in class and in the pool,” said Executive Director of Elementary Schools Kelly Murray Hall, who coordinates the program for St. Mary’s County Public Schools. “The impact of the program is in providing needed, quality instruction—and that the kids want to go.”
In all, 18 schools, 57 classes and more than 1,200 students will participate in the program that began in January and will continue until the end of May.
“Because St. Mary’s County has more than 500 miles of shoreline, water safety is a very big concern for parents,” said CSM Wellness, Fitness and Aquatics Assistant Director for Leonardtown Campus Judith Ferrara. “Although these are not swimming lessons, the instruction provided will help children assess dangerous conditions, practice throwing lifesaving rings to others who might be in distress, learn how to safely assist people without having to go into the water themselves
and to always call for help.”
Water safety especially hits home for the Dynard Elementary School community that lost a student to an accidental drowning last spring. The schools fifth-graders were the first ones to begin the water safety instruction this year.
“You don’t realize the valuable experience that this training provides until there is a tragedy,” said Dynard Elementary School Principal Andrea Owens. “Students are taught not to go into the water to attempt a rescue, but to look for anything that floats that a struggling swimmer can grab onto, even a cooler. Children are learning to be quick thinkers as part of the training.”
The water safety program, in its fourth year, is supported through a partnership with CSM, St. Mary’s Commissioners and St. Mary’s County Public Schools. The Leonardtown Campus Wellness and Aquatics Center opened in 2010 and in addition to water safety classes, the center provides year-round health and fitness opportunities for CSM students as well as members of the community.