Emilia Perez is one of the incoming first graders participating in a swim-safety course, a project between MUSD and the City of Maricopa. Photo by Victor Moreno

Some kids are water dogs. Others never get over their fear of the water, never learning to swim well enough to save themselves.

This school year, Maricopa Unified School District has agreed to be part of pilot program at Copper Sky Aquatic Center to teach young children to swim. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, participation in formal swim lessons can reduce the likelihood of a childhood drowning death by 88 percent.

“There are studies that say if you don’t learn to swim by third grade, you never will learn to swim,” said Nathan Ullyot, City of Maricopa Community Services director, who approached the school district with the idea. The initial program will be for first graders.

About 100 students each from Butterfield Elementary and Maricopa Elementary will be bused to Copper Sky to have lessons with the staff. The schools were chosen because they are the closest campuses to the facility, Ullyot said.

He went to MUSD this year and presented the idea to the administration. Superintendent Tracey Lopeman expressed her support of the concept and got the ball rolling.

During the pilot course, the program will be run as a series of field trips. If successful, it may be worked into the curriculum as a physical education course.

“I thought it was a great idea,” said Butterfield Principal Janel Hildick. “There are so many pools here.”

She said swimming safety is particularly poignant for Butterfield because a previous student died in a canal. The four-week course is not mandatory, and parents must sign a permission slip.

On the first day of the program, the first graders will be assessed in small groups. Those who show they are sufficiently adept at swimming will be taken to one area for a series of activities while their classmates prepare for swimming lessons.

Copper Sky lifeguard Rebecca Montes plays with Emilia Perez. Photo by Victor Moreno

Michelle Perez is enrolling her daughter Emilia. “I’m going to have her join the swim program because I think water safety and water awareness is very important,” she said, “especially early on so they can be prepared for any type of emergency or any type of scenario that they may be in when it comes to water.”

Hildick said the aim is to have the course completed before the district’s fall break, which starts the last day of September.

“It’s to keep them safe, and its also a win-win because it gets the kids more involved in the city and the community,” Hildick said.

Funding comes from a Global Water Resources sponsorship.

If the water-safety course works as it is intended and earns parental support during the coming semester, Ullyot said the goal is to expand the program to second and third grades and then have it in each of the district’s schools by 2021.

Data from the American Academy of Pediatrics indicate children as young as 1 year old may be at a lower risk of drowning if they have had some formal swimming instruction. But AAP cautions parents that swim programs do not “drown proof” a child of any age.


This story appears in the July issue of InMaricopa.

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