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Pilot project offers swimming lessons to 2,300 students

Initiative hopes to provide immigrants with water-safety skills

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>City of Winnipeg and the Winnipeg School Division announced a new pilot program to provide school-aged children basic swim and water safety classes.</p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

City of Winnipeg and the Winnipeg School Division announced a new pilot program to provide school-aged children basic swim and water safety classes.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/1/2018 (194 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The city’s largest school division will offer swimming lessons to students as part of a pilot project.

The goal is to teach swimming and water-safety skills to 2,300 students in Grade 4 by June.

The Canadian Red Cross and the Lifesaving Society worked with the city and the Winnipeg School Division to design a program called Swimming Counts. It includes three 40-minute pool times plus an hour of water-safety education in the classroom.

Lessons are expected to start as soon as kids return to school next week following the holiday break.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/1/2018 (194 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The city’s largest school division will offer swimming lessons to students as part of a pilot project.

The goal is to teach swimming and water-safety skills to 2,300 students in Grade 4 by June.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>City Coun. Mike Pagtakhan</p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

City Coun. Mike Pagtakhan

The Canadian Red Cross and the Lifesaving Society worked with the city and the Winnipeg School Division to design a program called Swimming Counts. It includes three 40-minute pool times plus an hour of water-safety education in the classroom.

Lessons are expected to start as soon as kids return to school next week following the holiday break.

Winnipeg city Coun. Mike Pagtakhan and Winnipeg School Division trustee Mark Wasyliw jointly announced the initiative Wednesday at the Cindy Klassen Recreation Complex.

Wasyliw said he hoped the program will be made permanent for all Grade 4 students in the school division.

The cost to the division is $30 per student for a total of $63,000. The funds will be drawn from the school division's reserve funds this year, he said.

"(This) program is going to save lives by giving students basic-level survival skills when it comes to water," Wasyliw said.

The program came together in just over a year, driven forward by three tragic deaths among newcomers.

David Medina, 12, and Jhonalyn Javier, 11, were pulled from the water at Grand Beach on Lake Winnipeg in August, 2016. Their families had recently immigrated from the Philippines. A few weeks later, Jean-Baptiste Ajua, 22, drowned at the beach at Birds Hill Park. A Rwandan immigrant, Ajua had become a Canadian citizen earlier the same year.

The idea of swimming classes was first tabled by Wasyliw in September, 2016. The school division went to the city about a month later  raising the idea of a partnership using city-owned pools in October. 

"I've been in politics now for about seven years. I have never seen a program go from idea to reality in a such a quick amount of time. It just shows, I think, the commitment to this program," Wasyliw said.

A Lifesaving Society of Canada report from 2016 noted new Canadians from ages 11-14 were five times less likely to know how to swim compared to Canadian-born kids the same age.

The report was released the same year two children and one young adult, all immigrants, died from drowning in a pair of tragedies within weeks of each other at popular beaches north of Winnipeg.

Since then, at least one refugee organization has stepped up to teach newcomers how to swim, but this is the first broadly based school program in Manitoba to focus specifically on newcomers and inner-city youth.

Swimming lessons were once fairly standard in most school divisions, but also the first programs to be axed during funding cuts, although some schools have kept lessons going. This program is different because its focus is heavy on water safety, not just swimming techniques.

"Swimming and water safety are basic life skills and it's important for kids of all ages, especially young ages, to learn these important skills," said Pagtakhan, chairman of the city's standing policy committee on protection, community services and parks.

The program isn't intended to replace private lessons, but will fill a gap for newcomers and other families who can't afford regular swimming lessons. 

Getting the program in place took a lot of logistics and school division staff worked closely with Winnipeg city recreational staff, who will teach it. Lessons will be held at pools no more than 30 minutes from any school and some are within walking distance, and those ones will be held later in the spring when it's warmer and kids can walk from schools to pools. In planning, the 40-minute sessions were given an hour and a half in total from class to pool and back. The city rec staff teaching it will all be instructor guards, trained by the Canadian Lifesaving Society and the Canadian Red Cross in water safety and swimming. 

"There are only three (pool) sessions so this is not a major disruption in the regular curriculum for the Grade 4 students," a school division spokeswoman said later Wednesday.

Officials have tried to anticipate unusual aspects of the pool excursions. For children leaving the facility with wet hair in cold weather, extra tuques may be available and, of course, the buses are heated. Accommodations were also made for kids who don't have, or don't want to wear, bathing suits but will wear T-shirts and shorts.

So far not all the permission slips have been returned but most parents are letting their children take part. "The program is not mandatory but it is offered free of charge and we expect a near 100 per cent take up," the school division spokeswoman said.

The city will supply access to pools around Winnipeg starting next week for the 59 schools in the division.

"Once the pilot program is over, we will evaluate the Swimming Counts program and consider making the program available to other Winnipeg school (divisions)," Pagtakhan said.

A similar program is offered in the Toronto area, media were told.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Alexandra Paul

Alexandra Paul
Reporter

Alexandra believes every story has a life of its own with a heartbeat and body and legs. She’ll probe for a pulse and check out its shape from every which way, until she feels it and sees it. So be patient with her. She can be exasperating.

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History

Updated on Wednesday, January 3, 2018 at 3:04 PM CST: full write-thru

6:51 PM: Full edit, adds fact box

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