a group of people standing next to each other near a pool
Young graduates and certified instructors of Keys Kids Swim stand with Lt. Gov. Jeannette Nuñez and state officials. Keys Kids Swim, started by Key Largo School in May of 2023, offers free, no-cost swimming lessons to local youth. ZACK WOLTANSKI/Keys Weekly

Florida Lt. Gov.  Jeanette Nuñez made a visit to the Upper Keys on July 2 to speak upon the importance of water safety — a crucial issue as summertime kicks off in the Sunshine State. 

In a morning press conference at Jacob’s Aquatic Center, Nuñez touched on the necessity of affordable kids’ swim education and the governor’s signing of legislation providing free swim lessons for kids 4 and under from families making less than 200% of the federal poverty level. Drowning is the number one cause of death for children between the ages of 1 and 4, and Nuñez believes the bill will work towards alleviating this ongoing issue. 

“This is just one more tool in the toolbox to help make sure our families can enjoy our waters and do so safely,” said Nuñez.

Additionally, Nuñez spoke over several water safety tips, encouraging parents to place door alarms to keep track of their young children, learn CPR and follow life jacket laws. 

“Supervising children is extremely important,” Nuñez said. “We want to make sure people safely enjoy our beaches, our pools, our springs, our rivers.”

Other guests echoed her concerns, providing statistics and anecdotes concerning drowning deaths. 

“Being around water is a way of life here in our state… (But) it’s important to stay vigilant,” said Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary Shevaun Harris. “More than 80% of drowning deaths of children reported to our hotline were during non swim time… We cannot leave our guards down.” Children with special needs are at particular risk of drowning if not properly instructed.

“In the Keys, there’s a serious, absolute risk of drowning despite all the beauty that points in another direction,” said Florida Department of Health Surgeon General Dr. Joseph A. Ladapo.

Mention was made of the Keys Kid Swim Program, a pilot program started by Key Largo School in 2023 providing no-cost swim lessons over the course of two weeks to kindergarteners with goals that were echoed in the governor’s bill. 

“It’s amazing to see the kids on day one not be able to put their faces in the water but by the end of the week be able to swim the length of the pool,” said John Allen, Monroe County Director of Parks & Beaches.

The event concluded as youth from the Jacobs Aquatic Center summer camp demonstrated to the speakers and attendees the rescue techniques they’d learned from this week’s lesson. Nùñez encouraged citizens to visit watersmartfl.com to learn more about the layers of protection involved in water safety.

Zack Woltanski
Zack Woltanski is a Coral Shores grad and aspiring novelist. After three years of high school and a gap year in Germany, he will be studying at Brown University, with a potential major in english or philosophy.