A Head Above

Since 2009, approximately 2,000 second-graders of the Jamestown Public Schools district have learned how to be safe around water.

The Jamestown YMCA has teamed up with its local school district to host its sixth annual Aquatic Safety Day program – teaching students to swim, empowering them to keep themselves safe around water and ice and instructing them in proper techniques to save others should the situation arise.

The program is hosted at the Y’s upper and lower pools, where students are instructed in three distinct water-safety categories: rules and personal safety, helping self and others, and personal flotation devices and boating safety. Constituting each category was a discussion component, followed by a demonstration. Each session wraps up with a summary of what was learned and a recreational swim.

The two-hour program is chiefly run by Jason Chinni, aquatics director, and Maria Roehmholdt, assistant aquatics director. According to Roehmholdt, coordinator and founder of the Aquatic Safety Day program, the program is intended to stress the importance of adopting safe and responsible behavior in the presence of water.

“Every second-grader in (JPS) comes through,” she said. “The Y pays for the program itself, and the school district pays for the busing to come here. They send (the students) in, and we teach them every aspect of water safety, (such as) rescues and boating safety. We stress that they can’t jump in; it’s only lifeguards who can do that, and adults should always be present.”

During the program, students learned that they should never jump in a body of water to attempt to save somebody. Rather, they were taught to employ items on-hand to retrieve someone from the water, such as poles or flotation devices of any kind. The students were then divided up into groups before getting in the water themselves to experience these rescue techniques firsthand.

Roehmholdt said the program was created to address a dire need to equip the children of Chautauqua County with these necessary skills, particularly because Chautauqua Lake presents so many opportunities for water-related activity over the summer.

“We’ve discovered that about 80 to 85 percent of the kids that come through don’t know how to swim, have never been exposed to the water and don’t have any clue what to do if something were to go wrong,” she said. “So, as a safety aspect, this is their exposure. And with water being so close in Chautauqua County, it’s all over the place.”

The response the program has received from the students and their teachers alike has been overwhelming positive.

“Every single class that has come through has told me it is their best field trip ever,” Roehmholdt said. “The kids, even the ones that are terrified when they come in, are smiling at the end.”

According to teacher surveys, the program has been well-received for its practicality and ability to impart live-saving techniques in a fun, entertaining manner.

“It exposes many of (the students) to a pool for the first time, and offers beneficial lessons they will use forever,” said one teacher.

Roehmholdt added that this year’s program is unique in that it was funded entirely by the Jamestown YMCA’s 25-member teenage aquatic staff, which raised $2,001 for its operation.