EDITOR DANIEL CLIFTON
About a dozen Shady Grove Elementary School second-grade students lined up on the top step of the YMCA of the Highland Lakes at Galloway-Hammond pool. Several looked excited, but a few seemed apprehensive.
A few feet away from them, standing in the shallow end of the pool, was Gretchen O’Brien, a YMCA swim instructor. She gave the kids a few simple instructions. They stretched out their feet in front of them and kicked. After a few moments of this, they turned on their stomachs, laid in the water with their feet behind them, and kicked again.
O’Brien offered encouraging words and some instructions to a couple of the students who needed more assistance.
After a few minutes of kicking, O’Brien had the kids comfortable in the water as she moved on to more instruction.
She’s not teaching them how to swim but how to stay safe around the water. The Burnet Consolidated Independent School District and YMCA of the Highland Lakes teamed up to offer all second-graders the Safety Around Water program. The district buses the second-graders to the YMCA every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday for about two hours each day for two weeks.
“It’s based on the principles of jump, push, turn, and grab,” said Jennifer Kenson, YMCA of the Highland Lakes at Galloway-Hammond executive director.
She also helped develop the program. Kenson explained the basic premise is on giving children the skills to help themselves if they fall into the water.
“It’s not a swim instruction class,” she said. “It’s about keeping kids safe around, or in the case they end up in the water. It focuses 100 percent on teaching the children on how to save themselves.”
During the class, instructors divide the students into different groups based on their swimming abilities and work with them on those levels.
The school district provides transportation, but it also commits to giving up classroom instruction for the program.
“It’s that important to the district,” Kenson said. The Hill Country Swim Boosters also jump in to help. “It’s also highly subsidized by (the YMCA).”
The YMCA of the Highland Lakes at Galloway-Hammond offers followup instruction with discounted swim lessons for students who take part in the Safety Around Water program.