As temperatures soar and beaches and lakes pack with people, so will the risk of drownings on Vancouver Island this summer. But thanks to a one of a kind program in Nanaimo-Ladysmith schools, hundreds more kids will be able to save a life if it comes to that.
Mid-Island schools have made lifesaving and swimming skills part of the curriculum to keep kids alive on our coast.
Plunging into Nanaimo’s Westwood Lake on a sunny Friday, an excited group of Grade 7 students immerses in a favourite local rite of summer. The first dip of the season in the still chilly lake. But they’re here because of class, not skipping it.
“Today’s agenda is we’re gonna learn about rescues. You guys already did your swim portion at the pool but today is all about doing some safe rescues,” says a swimming instructor to the students.
In Nanaimo-Ladysmith schools, drowning prevention and rescue skills are now taught alongside math and science.
“We’re going to let them know what happens or what they can do to save somebody else if they accidentally fall into water,” says Principal of Forest Park Elementary, Jacquie Poulin.
“This is the first school district to bring this program to every single grade 3 and every single grade seven student,” says Krystyna Domes of the Lifesaving Society of BC.
“They teach you mostly how to control your breathing, swim through deep cold water,” says Grade 7 student Darren Philip.
It’s fitting the lessons should be taught here. Six years ago a seven year old girl drowned on a camp field trip here at Westwood Lake.
“I remember it vividly and I remember everybody being devastated and just knowing could we possibly prevent that from happening in the future,” says Poulin.
She was pulled from right where these kids whose age she’d be now, are learning to save a life like hers.
“Drowning people are very, very dangerous,” says the instructor to the students. “They are so scared and panicked they don’t care who you are. Whether they know you or not they are going to use you like a ladder or grab you.”
“Yeah this could definitely save a life for somebody,” says Philip. “So you’ve got math, you’ve got english and you’ve got lifesaving now. Yeah, haha.”
According to the Lifesaving Society of BC research into the teenage brain suggests its around this age that young people are more likely to engage in risk taking and thrill seeking behaviour, yet many will not have had swimming lessons in years.
“It feels very good to know that we’re offering this to our students,” says Poulin.
It costs over $50,000 to teach the 1000 kids the program’s covering each year now. But with grants and support of communities, this district hopes to continue building the program and a small army of lifesavers in the process.