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Washington Local Schools students learn water safety at YMCA

The district is teaming up with local YMCAs to provide eight weeks of water safety lessons for all of its second-grade students.

TOLEDO, Ohio — Drowning is a leading cause of death for children ages 1-14 in the U.S., according to the CDC

Henry Fairchild, a second-grade student at Hiawatha Elementary School said he already knows how to swim, but wants to learn more.

Washington Local Schools is trying to prevent these tragedies by offering swimming lessons at the West Toledo YMCA on Tremainsville Road from 12-2 p.m. every Wednesday.

These aren't average lessons, either. They're part of a new program.

WLS is teaming up with a handful of local YMCAs to provide eight weeks of water safety lessons for its over 500 second-grade students.

"I don't know whose life is going to be saved," Superintendent Kadee Anstadt said. "We may never know that, but some life is going to be saved because a child knows how to act around water."

The idea came after Anstadt learned that a school district in Vermont provides its students with ski lessons, because not everyone may be able to afford them.

"It really had me thinking on my way home, what is that thing that our students might not have access to that is a really important skill?" she said. "Swimming came to mind."

She admits she didn't know if it was even possible, but local YMCA officials recognized the importance of water safety.

"With these kids, we want them to get to swimming. But for the most part, it's surviving skills," Hiawatha physical education teacher Nick Cranston said. "If they were to be pushed in or find themselves too far away from the edge, what to do if they start to panic. Hopefully, they don't panic."

Some kids have never even been in a pool, lake or pond. Others are a little more advanced.

"I'm mostly learning how to float," Hiawatha second-grade student Carson Casey-Gillen said. "They tell you to make space for your feet. like spread your feet apart and have your arms spread apart too."

The growth Anstadt has seen in the kids in a matter of weeks showed her that creating the program was the right thing to do.

"A lot of them have gone from literally being terrified of the water to being underwater, holding their breath and actually stretching out and swimming some laps," she said. "I'm so proud of them all."

She said it will take them the whole school year to get through all of the second-graders.

She also said the district has written grants to help pay for the initiative and is hoping WLS will be able to keep this partnership with the YMCA for years to come.

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