Kindergartners from three Columbus elementary schools will be able to receive free swimming lessons during the school day if the Muscogee County School Board approves an agreement with Columbus Parks and Recreation Department to conduct the pilot program, funded by a local corporation.
The board is scheduled to discuss superintendent David Lewis' recommendation during its work session Tuesday at 5 p.m. in the Muscogee County Public Education Center, then vote on the proposal during its next monthly meeting, July 20 at 6 p.m.
The board's work session usually is the second Monday of each month. It was moved to an earlier date to avoid conflicting with next week's Georgia Association of Educational Leaders conference, said board secretary Karen Jones. The work session wasn't held this Monday, she said, because the school district was closed for the extended Independence Day holiday.
If the board approves the Learn to Swim program, kindergartners from Rigdon Road Elementary, St. Marys Road Magnet Academy and Wynnton Arts Academy, will be eligible to receive 10 sessions of 30-minute swimming lessons over a two-week period from certified instructors at the Columbus Aquatic Center. The agenda doesn’t explain why those are the three schools chosen for the pilot program, but Lewis told the Ledger-Enquirer in a text message Monday that they were selected based on their proximity to the aquatic center and the administration wanted to pick one school from each of the district’s regions.
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James Worsley, the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department director, said a local corporation, which he declined to disclose, is covering the cost of the program in a grant to the city. The program’s estimated cost is $3,776 per school, averaging 100 kindergartners per school, for the 2015-16 school year.
The agenda gives the following description of the program: The student's parent or guardian must sign a permission form to participate. Transportation to and from the aquatic center will be provided. Parents and guardians will be allowed to observe the swimming lessons. Each participant's swimming level will be assessed at the beginning and end of the program, which will conclude with a graduation ceremony.
The Learn to Swim program has succeeded elsewhere, including in Greensboro, N.C., Worsley said, and he has been trying to bring it to Columbus since he moved here from Mecklenburg County, N.C., in 2011.
"With people drowning in the river, we want to make sure we have a program that starts in the school system," he said. "We're excited about partnering with them."
According to data attached to the agenda:
The National Drowning Prevention Association says downing is the leading cause of unintentional death for children ages 1-4, the second-leading cause for children ages 1-14 and the fifth-leading cause for all ages.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the drowning rate of black children ages 5-14 s three times more likely than white children in the same age range. Rigdon, St. Marys and Wynnton have predominantly black students.
The USA Swimming Foundation says 70 percent of black children and 60 percent of Hispanic children don't know how to swim, compared to 40 percent of white children, but children ages 1-4 who received formal swimming lessons reduced their risk of drowning by 88 percent.