NORTH PORT — As Florida floats the idea of mandatory swim skills for its school kids, the city of North Port is diving in.

Second-graders in a North Port school starting in March will receive swim lessons and other tools to stay safer around the water. The thought is drowning prevention, confidence and fun in the water, a lifelong health skill.

Through a pending grant from the Gulf Coast Community Foundation and in a partnership with the city, its aquatics center and Sarasota County schools, second-graders will participate in Kids SWIM, or Safe Water Instruction Matters. Grants would reduce training costs, or outright cover them.

North Port’s new aquatics center plus miles of canals are the city’s incentive to get kids confident in the water.

And this is Florida, the nation’s leader in child drownings.

“It’s really important for our community to know how to swim,” said Tricia Wisner, North Port’s assistant director for Parks and Recreation.

From 2005-2014, there was an average of 3,536 fatal unintentional drownings, or about 10 per day. Of that number, one in five was a child 14 or younger, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Meanwhile, two Florida lawmakers have introduced SB 608, which relates to health education and would require an age-appropriate water-safety curriculum. Kids would learn such things as flotation device usage, rip currents and responding to them, safe behaviors around pools, the importance of learning CPR, drugs and drinking risks around water, and swim lessons. SB 608 was introduced by state senators Jason Pizzo, District-38 Democrat, and Joe Gruters, District-23 Republican. The measure is under consideration before three Senate committees.

But North Port has water safety on the fast track, with its new $12 million aquatics center as the classroom, Wisner said. Youngsters in a North Port school PE class will get 30 minutes of daily instruction for one week. The learning curve depends on experience, and the basics for non-swimmers. Kids would wear swimsuits under their school clothes, swim and change back into their school attire.

The Just Against Children Drowning Foundation 5K and Twins Tot Walk was held last month in Port Charlotte. Run proceeds helped educate families about the risks of unsupervised swimming. Its founder lost twin sons to drowning in Venice. Paul DeMello’s message to guardians? Pool fencing and swim lessons.

“It’s turning the pain into good,” DeMello at the November 5K said of his boys’ deaths in 2010 and the effort to help others on their behalf.


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