CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - A school in rural Charleston County is now focusing a PE program to help students, especially minority students, learn to swim. According to the USA Swimming Foundation nearly 60% of black children lack the skill versus half that of white children. The school is now taking students from the school to a pool in Mount Pleasant to teach them the life saving skill.
The water can be bone chilling, especially now that it's fall. The students still jumped right into the pool. "It was cold, like ice," Eric Moultrie said.
Even more chilling is knowing drowning death statistics in the coastal county of Charleston. The coroner says 20 people died over the past three years. The USA Swimming Foundation says black children drown at a rate almost three times the overall rate.
"We need to get the kids exposure to swimming, exposure to water safety. We're in an area that surrounded by water. These kids are going to be exposed to water whether it's the pool, beach, creeks their entire young lives. We need to make sure they have the skills that they're safe," Saint James Santee Elementary School Principal Chris Swetckie said.
Swetckie says in the Awendaw and McClellanville area students do not have access to a pool. He says he saw the need to teach students to swim and started the swim program at a pool 20 miles away. Mondays through Thursdays a group of students ranging in age from 5 to 12 years old take a bus to the Mount Pleasant Recreation Department pool. The lesson takes the place of the students' PE class and recess, lasting 45 before they head back to the school.
"We want to really push water safety and the beginning of swimming lessons, freestyle and any way to get out. If you noticed we make them climb out of the pool. If they fall into the pool someplace, they're going to have to have that skill," MPRD Aquatics Coordinator Jeff Garrard said.
The USA Swimming Foundation points out some of the hurdles in learning to swim include a lack of parents' encouragement, appearance, financial constraints, and fear.
"We've been paddling," Patsy Hayes said.
"Do the backstroke and swimming," Eric Moultrie said.
"Kicking and learn how to float, jump," Delshawn Green said.
This is the first year the school has offered swim lessons to students. Principal Swetckie says parents had to agree to allow students to participate in the class, and almost all parents supported the idea.
The MPRD donates the time and instructors at the pool. Swimsuits for the kids are also donated. The school hopes to raise enough money for a community pool in Awendaw someday.