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Water safety for all second graders

By Lauren Pope & Jen Gennaro

The Zachary Community School District just became the first community in the state to fund swimming lessons for all second graders!

Today, a bus full of eager Rollins Place students arrived at the American YMCA.  Led by Assistant Principal Kristy Gilpin, they filed out excitedly and headed to the pool. There, a team of 11 instructors and lifeguards were waiting, ready to teach them the basics of swimming and water safety. The students, thrilled as they were to get into the water, were all giving their utmost attention. They knew this was serious (but fun!) business.

“The House passed a bill last year mandating schools to teach safety around water to all elementary kids,” says Laura O’Brien, District Executive Director of the YMCA.  “It’s expensive and not funded. But thanks to a partnership with the Americana YMCA, First Student, and Zachary Schools, Zachary is the first community in the state to fund and actually get kids in the pool,” she says. Funding came partially from a 35K grant from YMCA of the USA’s community swim grant and partially from the school district. 

Today’s first lesson from the YMCA learn to swim curriculum  was “Jump, Push, Turn, and Grab”. This helps students to orient themselves in the water and to get quickly to safety by pushing off the bottom of the pool. They also attended a Safety Around Water Program which taught them about general water safety including life jacket use and how to safely help a friend who is in trouble in the water (If you can’t throw something for them to float on, always lay on your tummy and reach out with a long pole. If you’re standing up, the panicked friend may pull you off your feet!)

“This initiative fits our mission to make the community stronger through the Y,” says YMCA District Executive Director Laura O’Brien. “Drowning has long been the number one cause of death of young people nation-wide, and it is especially prevalent here in Louisiana where so many of our recreational activities are focused around water. This program will give all second grade students in ZCS the skills they need to swim safely.” 

In addition to the second grade program, the Y is also providing written materials for students in K-6 and videos for middle and high school students. “You never know what piece of information will stick with students and save their lives,” O’Brien explains. The Y takes its mandate incredibly seriously. 

Buses dropped the Rollins Place Elementary students off at the Americana YMCA this morning starting at 9 a.m. The buses will roll until 2 p.m. in groups of 25 through the rest of this week and for the next several weeks, until each child has received eight 30 minute lifesaving swim lessons.

“This is a huge community undertaking,” O’Brien says. “Eight lifeguards, eight instructors. Four hundred kids.”

The swim lessons will give the children the skills they need to self-save and safely assist others, O’Brien says. “This initiative fits our mission to make the community stronger through the Y,” she says. “Making our community stronger – one kid at a time!”

If parents are interested in continuing their child’s water instruction beyond these classes, they can easily register for the YMCA summer swim classes, either through the QR code that will be included in the coloring book that the children are bringing home, or by going to the YMCA’s website.









Stacey Howell, Laura O’Brien and Stacey Adams
Buses began dropping the second graders off
Lessons began at the shallow splash pad

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