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Waterproof Duluth: Designed to Save Lives

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Waterproof Duluth: Designed to Save Lives

On June 11, 2012, a 13-year-old boy went under the cold waters of Lake Superior near the Ice House, a landmark just off the lake walk in Duluth’s Canal Park. Rescue crews searched for the teen who had been submerged for approximately 32 minutes before being pulled unconscious from the frigid waters. Unfortunately, he passed away later that afternoon. Knowing that participation in formal swim lessons can reduce the likelihood of childhood drowning by 88%, Gregg Batinich, UMD Health, Physical Education and Recreation (HPER) instructor and aquatic director for Recreational Sports and Outdoor Programs (RSOP), successfully applied for a grant to fund “Waterproof Duluth Youth Initiative”, a program designed to promote community youth drowning prevention by making organized group swim lessons accessible to low income and minority youth.

Waterproof Duluth provides water safety classes free of charge to members of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Northland. Their main goal: reducing the percentage of drownings among the minority community in the area. The first eight-week session was held at UMD’s pool from March 30 to May 18, 2013. RSOP student water safety instructors provided swim lessons and basic water safety skills for 27 children ages 6 to 18, while RSOP student climbing instructors and facility staff assisted with climbing wall activities and gym time. To further compel the youth to attend each weekly swim lesson program, Batinich collaborated with Liz Abrahamson of UMD Dining Services to incorporate a weekly buffet dinner at UMD’s Dining Center for all participants.

American Red Cross certifications were awarded to students who successfully completed the course skill requirements at the end of the eight-week session. For all other students, a certification of participation was awarded.

Feedback from participants was very positive, stated Tim McLoughlin, Director of Operations at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Northland. “By the end of the session, each and every swimmer was more confident in themselves and their ability to swim. Gregg and the student aquatics staff at RSOP were wonderful. They were patient, prepared and truly connected with our members.”

McLoughlin says he and the branch directors from the three area Boys and Girls Clubs would like to see the program continue. “It’s a good idea, the kids loved it and it accomplishes the basic goal; prevention of drowning.”

Although there is no grant money available to continue this program, RSOP Director Mick McComber believes the impact has been so profound that he has decided to fund the program internally. The next session begins November 22 and will continue through August 2014.

UMD undergraduate student instructors are also benefiting. Many of the water safety instructors facilitating the swim lessons are secondary education physical education majors. Working with the local minority youth population challenges these student-teacher candidates to demonstrate practicum competencies in their major field of study. Involving RSOP student staff in helping low income and minority communities through collaborative initiatives challenges their inherent beliefs and stereotypes. It helps them better understand the underlying cultural differences in a diverse community environment, and the importance of giving back to the community in which they live and work.

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