Water safety begins on land at Miami-Dade Public Schools


Water safety skills are one of the most important lessons you can teach a child, especially in the Sunshine State.

Every day, 10 people die by drowning and most of them are children. From 2017 to 2019 combined, Florida had the highest unintentional drowning death rate among children 0 to 9 years of age.

The importance of swimming lessons for water safety cannot be overstated. Not only can learning water safety prevent drowning, but it also helps children gain confidence to swim and gives them many advantages when starting school.

According to a four-year study by the Griffith Institute for Educational Research in Australia, children who were taught to swim by age 5 demonstrated more advanced cognitive and physical abilities than their peers who did not know how to swim. The swimmers also were more advanced in mathematics, counting, language and following instructions.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ (M-DCPS) Learn-to-Swim Program, also known as iSwim, is currently in its 45th year of operation. This innovative initiative — part of the Division of Academics, Office of Life Skills and Special Programs — has taught thousands of young students how to swim and eliminate their fear of water-related activities. iSwim teaches primary-age students — the most vulnerable and at risk of drowning — the required skills to be safe in and around the water. Students in Pre-K to 2nd grade receive beginning swimming skills and water safety education.

All iSwim instructors are state-certified teachers who have undergone extensive training in water safety and proper swimming techniques. They also are certified as both American Red Cross Water Safety instructors and lifeguards.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, each M-DCPS school participating in the iSwim program was provided with an above-ground, indoor swimming pool containing a state-of-the-art pump, heater and a sophisticated alarm system programmed to both the main office at each individual school and the District’s alarm monitoring system.

This school year, M-DCPS pivoted to Dry Swimming instruction, which involves lessons and activities that teach swimming skills and water safety knowledge in a classroom or gymnasium. There are many benefits to dry swimming, including developing muscle memory and reducing anxiety.

M-DCPS has created the WHALE Tales curriculum, which teaches children about water safety in different environments such as pools, waterparks, oceans, lakes and rivers. The American Red Cross has developed a water safety curriculum that teaches about water hazards around the home and neighborhood, covering sun safety, boating safety and much more. Both curricula are located at https://lifeskills.dadeschools.net for grades K-12 and are taught throughout the year.

As many parks and beaches begin to reopen, learning how to swim is more important than ever. Let’s all learn about water safety and staying safe while enjoying all of the fun and relaxation that water can provide.

Zachary Garvin is executive director, Division of Academics, Office of Life Skills and Special Programs.

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