water safety

Summer Safety: Swim Lessons Encouraged for Kids to Cut Drowning Risk

Drowning is the leading cause of death by injury for children 1-4, the American Academy of Pediatrics says

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With summer starting this week, the American Academy of Pediatrics is urging parents and caregivers to get their children into swim lessons — a plea that took on added urgency because of lost opportunities during the pandemic.

Many communities and organizations nationwide canceled swim lessons early in the COVID-19 crisis, the AAP pointed out, meaning a lot of kids have to catch up on skills.

“Drowning is the single leading cause of injury death for children ages 1 to 4, and it’s one of the top causes of death for teens,” pointed out Dr. Sarah Denny, in an AAP statement on summer safety. “In the summer, children often have more access to pools, lakes and other sources of water — all of which pose a drowning risk.”

The city of St. Albans, Vermont — which said it kept swim lessons going through the pandemic — said interest in lessons this summer was quite high.

“There’s nobody we don’t or can’t teach,” said Kelly Viens, the recreation director in St. Albans. “It’s a life skill, and it’s dangerous when kids don’t know how to swim.”

Young swimmers in St. Albans will have a new place to learn this summer, following the grand opening of a new municipal pool Monday at the Hard’ack Recreation Area.

“I think it’s going to provide a center for the community’s kids to be active, and be together,” predicted Kay Schweers, a mom who brought her son to the opening day for the pool.

The American Academy of Pediatrics said formal swim lessons, after age 1, have shown to reduce the risk of drowning. The AAP added other safety measures should include fenced pools, life jackets on boats, CPR training, and close supervision — including by lifeguards.

Looking to hire lifeguards after years of issues, the Massachusetts DCR has decided to offer wages starting at $21 an hour, sign-on bonuses and retention bonuses.

Malik Berry, who just finished fourth grade, is signed up for classes this summer. He and his mom, Heather Hull, both know how important they are.

“Because you might drown, and you might not be able to get saved,” Berry said.

“I want him to grow up and be able to make sure he can get himself to safety,” Hull added.

The Vermont Department of Health is also urging caution at the state’s many natural swimming areas

“Be smart and plan ahead,” advised Stephanie Busch, who manages VDH’s injury prevention program.

There’s usually at least one drowning death a year in Vermont’s natural swimming holes, the health department said. On May 21, a trip to the Bolton Potholes ended in tragedy when 21-year-old Cody Surprise died. Surprise was a University of Vermont student who was also in the Vermont National Guard.

State officials are stressing safety ahead of Memorial Day weekend.

According to Vermont State Police, the river current was very strong and flowing rapidly at the time of Surprise’s death.

Busch advised people to simply avoid these places after rain, because of the power of rushing water. She also said swimmers should not drink alcohol heavily and should always go in feet-first — to minimize harm from unseen rocks or logs.

“Know the risks, know your own capabilities, never swim alone,” Busch emphasized, praising organizations such as the YMCA, American Red Cross, and town recreation departments for providing opportunities for swim lessons.

The Vermont Department of Health provides more information on water safety — for a range of settings — on this website.

Back in St. Albans, the focus on safe swimming will actually continue year-round. There’s a dome for the new pool that will enable it to be used in the winter, the recreation department said.

Viens noted there will not only be swim lessons in the winter but also opportunities to train lifeguards from around the region in the colder months — helping address staffing needs at other area pools.

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