Manteo Elementary School first graders learn water safety in unique grant-funded program

Published 12:03 pm Monday, December 19, 2022

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Through a grant from POOLCORP’s “Splash of Joy” program, the Outer Banks Family YMCA has had the unique opportunity to host 103 Manteo Elementary School first graders for a series of Safety Around Water lessons. In an effort to provide essential water safety skills to children who may otherwise not have the opportunity to do so, POOLCORP has donated more than $2.2 million to fund more than 20,000 scholarships for swimming lessons and lifeguard training at YMCAs across the country.

Samantha Wills, senior program director at the Outer Banks YMCA, explained that this program took place years ago through the school system. Their umbrella association, the YMCA of South Hampton Roads, arranged for this grant and distributed funds throughout their centers. The grant stipulations were that the YMCA needed to partner with a Title 1 school and the children must be taught a certain set of survival swimming skills, such as how to safely get oneself out of a pool if they were to have fallen in.

“We are surrounded by water,” Wills said. “This is an essential life skill even if we weren’t, but it’s especially important because we are.” The senior program director expressed her excitement for the program and her dream to have it reach many more schools, such as Cape Hatteras Elementary. “I would love nothing more than to see it grow, [to reach] every kid in Dare County.”

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The association strives to provide opportunities such as this one often; next year they are looking to serve 7,500 children. “We want as many people to know how to swim as possible,” shared Jamie Koch, executive director at the Outer Banks YMCA. She shared that programs such as this educate the general public about how one does not need to be a member of the Y in order to have a swim lesson, no matter what age they are. This program opens the door “for kids that have gone through lessons [here] before and then have family who don’t know how to swim.”

Four lessons total will be held at the YMCA, with two having been completed so far. Community partners such as the U.S. Coast Guard Station at Oregon Inlet and Kill Devil Hills Ocean Rescue have come in to teach the first graders about beach and ocean safety, while YMCA staff walk the children through essential water safety skills in the indoor pool.

“We are all passionate about the project,” shared Wills. “It really is a lot of fun, and the kids are a lot of fun.” She reported that feedback from both teachers and the school district has been nothing but positive. More importantly, the children are receiving vital life skills in an area where water safety is crucial.