A dozen Culpeper area children tested the waters at Powell Wellness Center last week as part of the 10th Annual World’s Largest Swimming Lesson.

Tens of thousands of kids participated in the global water safety initiative  June 20 at more than 700 facilities in 29 countries with the theme “Swimming Lessons Save Lives.” Powell Wellness Center aquatics manager Stacey Aucoin was on board with that message.

“One of the biggest things I want to promote here is water safety,” she said. “If you have not learned to swim by the third grade, it’s most likely that you will never learn to swim.”

The World’s Largest Swimming Lesson, launched in 2010 by the World Waterpark Association, is all about drowning prevention, said the local aquatics manager, noting how important swim lessons are in preventing that. Aucoin said the awareness event also teaches young swimmers how to save others while keeping themselves safe.

At Powell Wellness Center, the children were divided into groups by age. One group practiced wading and kicking around the walking oval, led by dutiful guards, while basic lessons took place in the pocket pools on either end. Children learned how to float on their backs, hold onto the side of the pool, blow bubbles and other safety tips.

“Water safety is one of the major things that can cause accidents,” said lifeguard Stephanie Peters.

Learning how to swim decreases water accidents while alleviating stress for parents and guards alike, added Peters, a lifeguard for six years. “We will always be there to help,” she added. A 2015 graduate of Culpeper County High School, Peters recently graduated from Radford University with a sports medicine degree and is getting ready to pursue a physical therapy program at Marymount University.

Local mom Meta Blue brought her 5-year-old daughter, Kalea, for the free swimming lesson. Before getting into the water, the preschooler dutifully asked for a life vest even though her mother said she already knows how to swim. Having three older sisters encouraged Kalea to take the initiative, Blue said.

“She was scared at first, but now she’s on her back, doing flips, turning around, everything. Being the youngest, she was determined to do what her sisters were doing,” said the local mom.

Courtney Jones brought her 4-year-old, Kinleigh, for the water safety experience.

“My daughter has always been scared of the water so I wanted to make sure she was comfortable getting in it before I sign her up for lessons,” Jones said, adding she learned to swim at age 3 at the YMCA in Newport News.

The local mom mentioned a friend whose 3-year-old nearly drowned recently. That child’s mother is now on a mission to educate others about water safety.

“It was a real eye opener for me,” said Jones. “It can happen to anybody—just turn your back for a second.”

From 2005 to 2014, there was an average of 3,536 fatal unintentional drownings annually in the U.S. —about 10 deaths per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About one in five people who die from drowning are children, with those ages 1 to 4 at the greatest risk.

Temple Murray, of Madison, brought her grandson, Gunner, for the swim lesson at Powell Wellness. She said he swims regularly in the pool at Graves Mountain Lodge and is scheduled for formal lessons in the near future.

“He can swim underwater, but not over,” she said. “I think all children should learn to swim at an early age.”

Over in the pocket pool, swim instructor Peggy Young gently instructed the young participants about buoyancy.

“If you ever feel scared, you can always float on your back,” she said. “If you feel like you can’t go, you can always float in the water.”

Research shows participation in formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning by 88 percent among children aged 1 to 4, according to the USA Swimming Foundation. The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages lessons for children as young as 1.

Three-time Olympic gold medal swimmer Rowdy Gaines kicked off the first World’s Largest Swimming Lesson at at Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park in Florida, where children from the Boys and Girls Club of America participated, according to a news release.

“Kids that start taking swim lessons early are taught basic skills and important safety rules for being around water,” said Gaines, who has helped champion the event since 2010. “We want everyone to know they have to be water aware. Swim lessons don’t drown-proof kids, but ensuring every child learns to swim is one of most crucial layers of protection a parent can provide.”

Registration remains open for a variety of swim lessons at Powell Wellness Center. Classes are held twice a week for three weeks. The cost is $68 for members and $78 for non-members for parent-preschool classes and $80 or $90 for older participants. For information about the aquatics program at Powell Wellness Center, contact Aucoin at saucoin@culpeperwellness.org.

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