Why one school is pushing to get water safety in its regular curriculum

Washington Park Beach, Michigan City.

"How many fire drills do we do in Indiana," asked Bob Pratt to a class of Barker Middle School students.

According to the fire marshal, the answer is once a month. Pratt is the co-founder of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project; a non-profit 501c3 advocating for water safety in the Great Lakes. Hew was invited to teach water safety classes all day at Barker on Thursday.

"How many water safety drills you do in school," he asked the class.

The young teens looked on with blank stares. That's because they've never had a water safety drill at school.

“Nothing kills more children than drowning accidentally," said Pratt, “Unfortunately, by the time the person is in the drowning scenario, It’s really too late.”

He's hoping Thursday's lesson shows teens how important it is to remember these words:

"They need to Flip. Float. And Follow," he said.

The flip part is supposed to remind people to flip over on their back if they're struggling in the water. Next step, stay afloat. Experts say lifting your rear-end helps people stay on top of the water. As for 'follow', Pratt says there's no universal way to apply this. If you're caught in a rip current, you swim parallel from shore. If you're near a pier, Pratt suggests swimming away from it; because waves could push you into the pier itself, or rocks.

Not all of this stuff is intuitive. Pratt points out a study from the American Red Cross.

“More than half the population in the United States cannot do five basic water safety skills to keep them alive," he said.

He's on board with Barker Middle School to teach kids aquatic life-saving skills.

"It's really time that we have a water safety curriculum in our schools."

The reason Barker Middle School is making water safety a part of their curriculum now, because two of their students were pulled from the water at Washington Park Beach this summer. One was fatal; the other is still in residential medical care. Amy Hamann is the Curriculum Coach at the school.

"We had two students that drowned this summer, they were eight graders here at our school," said Hamann.

Hamann says both students would be Freshmen in high school this year.

"We decided to take this horrible, horrible tragedy and turn it into something positive and meaningful," she said, "Our ultimate goal is to save lives."

Pratt and his partner taught for free Thursday.

"Every one of these drownings are heart breaking," he said.

For his team to become part of the school's regular science curriculum, the school has to apply for a federal grant to pay for it.

"We plan on hopefully having them back in May," said Hamann.

She says to make sure kids retain the knowledge, they'll be assigned small group projects. Students will have to create a short PSA about the material they learned, to show to elementary school students in the Michigan City area.

Even though the school's prepping a lesson for summer, Pratt says exploring the lakes of the Midwest in the winter is just as dangerous. He says not to go on the ice. Pratt has a message for parents too, that applies 365 days of the year.

"People need to understand drowning is very swift, very silent, and you have to be watching the kids 100% of the time."

The Great Lakes Surf Project is also working to get safety equipment like flotation devices at Great Lakes piers.

During Thursday's lessons, ArcelorMittal, a local steel company, was at Barker Middle School. Hamann tells me the company is considering sponsoring the grant that would allow the school to add water safety to its curriculum.

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