Zoë Randolph, a 7-year-old girl from Woodbridge, Virginia, stretched out in a pool Friday and kicked her legs as she clutched her swimming instructor.
Meanwhile, Jabari Myers, 9, interlocked his fingers and practiced chest compressions on a dummy during a CPR lesson.
The two were among dozens of children who smiled, laughed and frolicked during the final day of a water safety camp at Joint Base Andrews in Prince George’s County.
“I do like to swim,” said Jabari of Bowie, sporting a blue T-shirt listing the ABCs of water safety. “The pool is fun.”
The four-day event organized by the Zac Foundation and the Boys and Girls Club of America was conducted in 20 cities nationwide to inspire fun in the water as well as impart lessons to protect themselves and others.
The foundation was established by Karen and Brian Cohn of Connecticut, after the couple’s 6-year-old son, Zachary, drowned in 2007 when his arm became trapped by a pool drain inside a backyard swimming pool.
Besides taking swim lessons based on experience level, learning CPR techniques and chatting with first responders, children ages 5 through 9 also sat inside a classroom setting, where they conducted word searches, colored and drew a pool-safe area.
“We are not just teaching children how to swim, but we want to impact long-lasting change,” said Megan Ferraro, executive director of the foundation. “We a program that has a goal of cultivating a community of water safety.”
One of the main goals was to decrease the fear of swimming among Black and Latino children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black children ages 5 to 19 drowned in swimming pools nearly six times the rate of whites between 1999-2010. The data lists factors such as access to pools and lack of desire in the sport.
Aquatics instructor Bobby Broome, who has taught children and adults to swim since 2005, said such disparities partly stem from historical racism, as Blacks weren’t always allowed to use public pools.
“But that has changed now, especially here in the D.C. area,” he said. “One of the first things I hear from children when they first get into the water, ‘I’m going to drown.’ The fear comes from their parents.”
On Friday, Broome smiled with the children and encouraged them to dunk their heads under the water, but also administered a dash of life lessons.
“Hey, watch how you splash!” he said to two boys flopping their hands on the water. “There’s another person behind you.”
The boys immediately stopped and patiently waited for Broome to guide them to swim on their backs.
Parents may not be able to swim, but are encouraged to use the alphabet soup for safety:
• A is for “adult” who should always be around the water with a child.
• B is for “barrier” such as a fence around the pool.
• C is for “classes” that teaches safety for both children and adults.
• D is for “drains” for all swimmers to stay away from them.
Another important aspect for parents and guardians: the four-day program was free.
“It’s the best. It’s for free. I like that,” said Marit Weathers of Brandywine, Maryland, whose two sons participated in the program. “They take each child one-on-one and teach them how to swim and they are not scared of the water. I’m coming back next year.”
For more information, go to thezacfoundation.org.