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Wilson Third-Graders Swim into Fall

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Soon these kids will be like fish out of water.
WILSON — It can happen in a second. You turn your back and before you know it,your child could drown. Drowning is the second leading killer in NorthCarolina. One local community is fighting back.

Savannah Lewis is putting the books and pencils aside for the day, to learna lesson that could save her life. She knows a family vacation to thebeach could spell disaster.

The state says drowning is the second most common killer of children inNorth Carolina. So, Wilson County is offering a six-day swimming courseto every third-grader in public school. By the end of the year,1,000 children will have paddled through.

"After two or three days, they're getting pretty comfortable floating andkicking," explains instructor Susan Toms, "and after six days, the majority are pretty comfortable in the water."

One in three of these children has never tried to swim until now. That'sone reason school officials like Donn Holt say the lesson is perfect forstudents this age. They're old enough to understand it, and young enoughto enjoy it.

Educators also believe the students remember the lesson better than manyadults. Swimming is a skill they may never need to use, but one thatcould also be the most critical to develop.

"We also hope that they'll gain some safety knowledge where they'll knowhow to act around water and not get themselves in a dangerous situation,"says Hall.

The program has been in place for more than 10 years, but with drowningbeing such a real threat, the class may never be more important than itis right now.

School leaders say help from volunteers is vital to keeping the programalive. More than a dozen volunteers help out every day.