Aug 03, 2023

Okoboji third

Okoboji Elementary third-graders participate in activities involved in a weeklong "Safety Around Water Program" at Bedell Family YMCA in Spirit Lake. The program includes teaching water lifesaving techniques.

SPIRIT LAKE—It doesn't take long, driving north from Okoboji Elementary in Milford, to hit the shoreline.

To prepare students to stay safe around water this summer, the school's four third-grade classrooms are taking turns participating in a weeklong "Safety Around Water Program" at Bedell Family YMCA in Spirit Lake.

"It's kind of crazy to me how many kids haven't taken swimming lessons even though we live at a lake," said third-grade teacher Jacob Everson. "It's good we have the class because some kids come in not really having hardly any water experience."

The Iowa Great Lakes is a chain that includes the deepest natural lake in Iowa, and the area is a popular destination for swimming, boating and fishing.

Outdoor recreational activities come with risks, however — especially for young children.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, water safety training is crucial for minimizing the risk of death and injury among children. For Iowa children, drowning is the leading cause of death by unintentional injury, and more children between the ages of 1 and 4 die from drowning than any other cause of death.

For children between the ages 5 and 14, drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death. The leading cause of death in that age range is motor vehicle crashes.

Okoboji students taking the YMCA water-safety course receive instruction in basic water safety skills, including identifying safe places to swim and several water rescue techniques. Along with basic swimming lessons, they also learn survival swim skills, including the "Swim, Float, Swim" method of swimming when stranded in open water.

"I learned to try and find the closest piece of land if you fall in the water," said third-grader Carter Johnson.

Some of the instruction is geared toward outdoor recreation in natural lakes, but most of the skills covered would be just as useful in a pool setting, Everson said.

"It's general water safety, but we also talk about, ‘Hey, we live at the lake. A lot of you guys go swimming at the lake. All of this can be used when you go swimming and boating,’" he said.

Each swim lesson is about an hour long.

"The kids go and have their swim lesson, and then throughout the week, we talk about water safety," Everson said. "One of the lessons is all about how to use life jackets and how to use a floatation device to help save one another, if need be, on the lake or in the pool."

Many of the students taking the course are on the cusp of new independence at the lake or in the pool.

"It's a good age. At a younger age, a lot of times parents are still very much around, and I think right around third grade, fourth grade, they become a little more independent, especially when they’re going to the beach and stuff," he said.

The water-safety lessons, taught by two instructors at the YMCA, are not one-size-fits-all, and beginning and advanced swimmers are grouped with other swimmers at their level.

At first, Everson said, a handful of students often register a fear of water, but that usually dissolves. He said most students are excited for the chance to leave school and take a dip during the school day.

"For a lot of them, it's kind of their favorite part of the year. They know it's coming — maybe they have older siblings, and they know that we’re going to go to swimming lessons this year," Everson said. "Usually, there's a lot more excitement than nerves."

"I learned how to backstroke and go underwater for a long time," said third-grader Xander Schable. "I just loved everything about it."

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