St. Alphonsus CES students help launch drowning prevention program season
By Jason Bain
The impact of Risk Watch Peterborough’s Swim To Survive program is apparent more than just when students are in the water, if you ask St. Alphonsus Catholic Elementary School Grade 3 teacher Sarah Mantifel.
Participants, who can be apprehensive, learn to persevere.
“They are applying that mindset to the challenges they face in the classroom,” she said as her students took part in their first in-water session at the YMCA pool Wednesday morning as the program returned for its fall session.
This year, some 35 elementary classes with the public and Catholic school boards in Peterborough city and county are expected to complete the life-saving program, a partnership between emergency services unique to the area.
Students learn three basic survival skills: how to roll into the water, tread for 60 seconds and swim lengths of the pool in any method.
The program also utilizes in-class visits from a firefighter, police officer and a paramedic and three visits to aquatic partners including the YMCA, the Peterborough Sport and Wellness Centre and Trent University Athletics.
Those visits help students feel connected to their community, while also helping them encourage other members of their classroom family and to celebrate each of their individual successes, Mantifel said.
The program includes county/city paramedics, city police and fire, provincial police and partners from Peterborough Public Health and local safety associations and primary funding sponsor Peterborough Utilities.
More than 5,300 Grade 3 students have taken part in it since it was introduced in 2011 following the drowning death of Avrey Pringle.
Peterborough Fire Service acting Capt. Dave Gillespie, who has been involved since the beginning, highlighted how the program has grown from serving 30 students in its first year to more than 1,000.
Sometimes students will remember the first responders when they see them in the grocery store, for example, where they are always excited to tell them they passed, he said. “We have a very unique delivery model that makes it a success here.”
Firefighters first visit classrooms in week one to explain the program, just before students go into the pool for the first time.
The following week, a police officer visits their class and talks about lifejackets, for example, before they return to the pool.
In the third and final week, paramedics speak about cold and fast-moving water before they return to the pool one final time.
Gillespie pointed out how the program is an exciting chance for first responders, who would normally be responding to a 911 call, to be proactive.
“This is a rare opportunity where we get to change that,” he said, adding how prevention is key in a province where there are six near-drownings each month, mishaps that put added pressure on an already-taxed health care system.
“We’re stopping that before it happens,” he said.
Injury prevention is a top priority for Peterborough Public Health, public health nurse Kate Dunford said, pointing out how fostering swimming skills makes for a safer community. “It’s really a win-win.”
Some students may not have had opportunities to swim, or may fear the water, so simply getting into the water is big for some, YMCA aquatics supervisor Shannon Grant added. “That can be a huge accomplishment as well.”