Local News

Wilson Third-Graders Swim into Fall

Posted October 8, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

— 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 North Carolina. One local community is fighting back.

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

The state says drowning is the second most common killer of children in North Carolina. So, Wilson County is offering a six-day swimming course to 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 and kicking," 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's one reason school officials like Donn Holt say the lesson is perfect for students this age. They're old enough to understand it, and young enough to enjoy it.

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

"We also hope that they'll gain some safety knowledge where they'll know how 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 drowning being such a real threat, the class may never be more important than it is right now.

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