Parents bring their very young children — six months and up — to the pool four days a week for 10 minutes, for up to six weeks. The objective is to teach children swim survival, some call it self-rescue, utilizing the swim-float-survive technique and possibly save their lives.
“This is something I am passionate about,” said Andrea Thompson. She is the founder of the Florida Keys Drowning Prevention Task Force, and also the captain of EMS and Trauma Star for Monroe County Fire Rescue. She has spent about two years putting this program together. Step one was funding to get a $21,000 grant from the Keys Health Ready Coalition. Step two was persuading a qualified instructor to teach four keys women the ropes — Nadyne Siegel-Brown of Georgia.
Thompson said Siegel-Brown is so committed to the Keys project, she’s offering the training at cost. Siegel-Brown has over 30 years of swim instructing experience and specializes in teaching special needs children swim survival.
“During those six weeks, she’ll be certifying our Keys teachers, as well as teaching students,” Thompson said. Classes will be taught at the Hyatt pool in Marathon and the Martin Luther King pool in Key West. (Marathon does not have a public pool, further hampering swim proficiency, and so the nonprofit has accepted the generous offer of the use of the resort pool.)
There are 48 slots open to Keys children for the first classes beginning April 22nd . With so many babies, each slotted for a very specific time period, Thompson said the nonprofit will utilize sophisticated software to handle the scheduling at keys2swim.com. The goal is to teach 80-100 children swim survival lessons each year.
Thompson, Candace Gostefon, Lara Rutskin Martin, all of Marathon, and Susan Mitchell of Key West, will all become certified in the infant swim protocol. Rutskin-Martin is a mother to two young girls; the youngest is learning to swim now.
“This is a big need in the Keys. You can’t live down here and not know how to swim,” she said. “So many children depend on arm floaties and they will never learn that way. And it breaks my heart that so many kids are scared of the water.”
According to the state Monroe County Department of Health, Florida leads the country in drowning deaths for children ages 1-4 years old. Unfortunately, Monroe County leads the state drowning deaths, but victims in the Keys are typically middle aged. Since 2008, 57 people have drowned in the Keys, most in Key West (42 percent) and Marathon (19 percent).
“The Drowning Prevention Task Force was formed to make pool and swim safety a health priority in Monroe County,” said the health department’s Alison Kerr, who is also a founder of the group. In addition to Kerr and Thompson, the founding board also includes Charlene Sprinkle, Emily Mutschler, Marie Braun and Erin Donald.
Thompson said not every child will have to undergo the entire six weeks of training; some will master the self-rescue technique earlier.
For more details
Classes are 10 minutes a day,
Four days a week, for six weeks
What are Infant & Swim Survival lessons? It’s a program designed to teach infants and children how to survive an accidental water exposure. Infants aged 6 months to 1 year (not walking) will learn how to roll onto his or her back and float, rest, and breathe, and to maintain this position until help arrives. Children over 1 year old will learn the additional skill of flipping back onto their stomachs and swimming to exit the water. The classes are very short, and repeated four days a week, over a course of weeks.