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Testing the waters — fifth graders learn basic water safety

With temperatures dipping, Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) fifth graders are taking the plunge. The CCPS water safety program is in its fourth decade teaching students the basics of water safety.

The program does not teach students to swim, instead it is designed to instill a respect for water and the inherent danger surrounding it. Students are taught to recognize the signs of a person in distress in the water and how to help or get help to assist them. They are also taught how to quell panic if they find themselves unexpectedly in a dangerous situation around water.

Fifth graders are at a good age to learn safety procedures, Amy Robinson, lead aquatics manager for CCPS, said. Not only are they at an age that they may find themselves trusted to explore more on their own, but they are also able to grasp the seriousness of a situation and the need to render aid or find help. They are also physically able to learn more safety procedures. “They have stamina and the physical strength,” Robinson said.

There are two phases to the water safety program. The first calls for students to view a water safety film from the American Red Cross and discuss it. They also go over general rules about how to stay safe around water and how to survive the unexpected. The instruction includes classroom and at home activities. Phase 2 is a day spent at a high school pool learning skills from water safety instructors and recognizing the safest place to walk on the ice in Charles County is only at the Capital Clubhouse. The water safety program is held at the county’s indoor pools at Henry E. Lackey, North Point and St. Charles high schools. 

Fifth grade students of Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer Elementary School visited North Point recently to learn more hands-on skills from Robinson who was assisted by Rebekah Colatruglio, North Point’s pool manager, staff from the Charles County Recreation and Parks Department, and North Point students with lifeguarding experience.

Students practiced pulling swimmers in distress — this is where the North Point students come in, treading water until they are rescued. The younger students were asked to pull them to safety using objects nearby — a towel, a rope, a pole substituting for a branch. The more advanced swimmers among the fifth graders practiced how to help while they themselves are in the water. “It’s important to learn at least the basics of water safety,” William Gray, a North Point senior who is trained to be a lifeguard, said. “A lot of drownings and accidents can be prevented if you know basic water safety.”

The program, which is held in January and May, was started by a CCPS physical education teacher more than 40 years ago and expanded by the aquatic’s coordinator at the College of Southern Maryland (CSM). They saw a need to teach young children about water safety following the drowning deaths of two children in Western Charles County. Over the years, the program grew to be offered to all CCPS fifth graders.

“I think everyone should know this,” Mia Joyce, a Jenifer fifth grader, said. “Everyone needs to know what they can do to help.”

Kenneth Ruff, a fifth-grade teacher at Jenifer, has been on a few field trips and counts the water safety trip among the favorites. Not only does he get to participate in the pool, but he also knows his students and their peers are learning valuable lessons. “Spring weather is coming, and they’re going to go outside, having fun with their friends. They may be around water, like a creek or a neighborhood pool,” Ruff said. “They need to know water safety and how to stay safe and help others stay safe.”

To learn more about the CCPS water safety program, click here.

 About CCPS

Charles County Public Schools provides 27,598 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 37 schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.

The Charles County public school system does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability in its programs, activities or employment practices. For inquiries, please contact Kathy Kiessling, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 Coordinator (students) or Nikial M. Majors, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 Coordinator (employees/ adults), at Charles County Public Schools, Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building, P.O. Box 2770, La Plata, MD 20646; 301-932-6610/301-870-3814. For special accommodations call 301-934-7230 or TDD 1-800-735-2258 two weeks prior to the event.

CCPS provides nondiscriminatory equal access to school facilities in accordance with its Use of Facilities rules to designated youth groups (including, but not limited to, the Boy Scouts).