Water safety education for all Florida public schools

Posted 5/6/24

The state of Florida is known for being a peninsula with an 8,435.7 mile coastline, 7,800 lakes...

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Water safety education for all Florida public schools


The state of Florida is known for being a peninsula with an 8,435.7 mile coastline, 7,800 lakes, 60 rivers, and hundreds of thousands of canals throughout the state all of which make up an intricate part of our communities. Water-related recreational activities involving pools or natural bodies of water are almost always associated with enjoying the state of Florida and we see this in every commercial and magazine advertisement to attract tourism.

Beyond the sun and surf, this state serves 74 public school districts who in turn serve 2,791,687 students including the fourth largest school district in the nation,
Miami-Dade County.

Water safety and drowning prevention education, unfortunately, is not a requirement for all public schools nor is it taught in all grades. From my personal observation in my county’s school district, middle and high school students have been neglected on this topic, even when we as adults know that the possibility of peer pressure, drug and alcohol use, and newly acquired liberty in the form of a restricted driving license, are most prominent at this age. Upon reviewing the Florida Department of Children and Families’ webpage, in the span of 10 years (2011-2021), 843 drowning deaths were recorded for children ages <1-18 years of age.

After contacting the Department of Children and Families the recorded drowning deaths reflect abuse and negligence only. The Florida Department of Vital Statistics webpage and under Unintentional drownings for Children 0-18 years of age from years 2010 – 2019 (2020-2021 statistics are not available) total deaths were 893. Statistics from various sources show the following:

According to the CDC: “Drowning is a leading cause of death for children.

In the United States:

o More children ages 1–4 die from drowning than any other cause of death except birth defects.
o For children ages 1–14, drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death after motor vehicle crashes.

Every year in the United States there are an estimated:

• 3,960 fatal unintentional drownings, including boating-related drowning — that is an average of 11 drowning deaths per day.

• 8,080 nonfatal drownings—that is an average of 22 nonfatal drownings per day.

Nonfatal drowning can result in long-term health problems and costly hospital stays.

After reviewing these statistics it is abundantly clear that Water Safety and Drowning Prevention must be made a priority for all Florida students. I have detailed resources already available free of cost to any and all persons interested and that can be easily implemented in the classroom and areas that I have observed an educational deficit in my own community, for older students but that has the potential to be improved and effective.

K-6 Grade

The American Red Cross has created the Longfellow Whale tales water that is used nationally for students and is recommended for grades Kindergarten-6th grade.

Longfellow’s WHALE Tales Lesson Plans:

• Swim as a Pair Near a Lifeguard’s Chair.
• Look Before You Leap.
• Think So You Don’t Sink.
• Reach or Throw, Don’t Go.
• Don’t Just Pack it, Wear Your Jacket.
• Think Twice Before Going Near Cold or Ice.
• Know About Boating Before You Go Floating.
• Too Much Sun is No Fun.
• In Your House and In Your Yard, Watch for Water, Be on Guard.
• Wave, Tide or Ride, Follow the Guide.

6– 12 Grade

The same Longfellow’s Whale Tales lesson plans can be used but with an age-appropriate approach that is relatable to the middle and high school population with the addition of a physical training component to teach students how to properly throw a life ring or heaving jug to a drowning victim.

One of the lessons: “ Reach or Throw Don’t Go”  enforces the importance of throwing a life ring or reaching out to a drowning victim with a long object instead of the rescuer becoming a drowning victim themselves. It is important that aside from in-classroom lessons, middle and high school students should be given the opportunity to practice how to throw a life ring or locate an object within the environment to reach out to a drowning victim.

The following proposal is intended to bring a physical component to practice the safe water. Life rings are typically excessive around boats, piers, harbors, and water rescue stations. Knowing the proper way to throw a life ring is truly life-saving. Should a life ring not be available in the immediate vicinity of the drowning event, it is important that the student critically think about ways to reach out to the victim instead of jumping into the water themselves and becoming victims themselves. Practicing possible scenarios and how to throw a heaving jug is another great inexpensive, accessible way to teach students how to reach out to a person in distress. Middle and high school students would be ideal to teach this skill to, being that their physical size permits the strength to pull someone ashore. High School students begin to obtain independence during this age and at times go to beaches and waterways in the company of other students, combined with the fact that waterways make up Florida’s fabric and way of life, it is essential that students experience this hands-on experience that may assist them in real-life situations.

Ideally, the activity would take place outdoors or in the gym. A pool or body of water is not necessary or required to practice how to “Reach or Throw, Don’t Go”.

A heaving jug is a sustainable alternative to the life ring and may be used during this physical component activity and the American Red Cross has detailed the following instructions on the website:

• Lead students through the steps of making a heaving jug:
•o Put 1/2-inch of water or sand in the plastic jug and screw the top on tightly.
• Tie the 40-foot rope to the handle of the jug.
• Use the waterproof markers to decorate and personalize your jug.”

An additional activity would be to call for help, critically think and locate an object within the vicinity to assist someone in distress.

Other aspects to be covered during this training include but are not limited to:

• CPR training - Knowing how to respond during a drowning emergency
• Being aware of cold-weather hazards
• Avoid drinking/ drug use, especially while in contact with water-related  activities
• Addressing peer pressure and risky activities on the water
• Always enter the water feet first and never diving off of a pier or harbor that is not indicated for swimming due to unknown depth or hazards that cannot be visualized below the waves.
• The importance of wearing a life jacket and assessing swimming competency

Literature should also be sent home with parents or made available to them within each school to encourage safe water practices.

In summary, I am requesting the passage of this Drowning Prevention Education bill making water safety and drowning prevention education a requirement to all K-12 public school curriculum and made available to every public school in the State of Florida in order to prepare students and avoid preventable drowning deaths. I am also requesting the implementation of a physical component to the water safety and drowning prevention education for all middle and high school students, that shows each student how to appropriately throw a life ring or heaving jug. Your action and approval of this educational program is vital for Florida’s students to have the appropriate training and acquire the skills that can potentially save their lives and lower drowning mortality and injury rates.

Thank you for your time,

water safety, drowning, prevention, education, schools