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Splash program presents dilemma for Richmond County school board members

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It’s a question that weighs what would be lost in several hours versus what could be saved in a few seconds.

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Four-year-old Samuel Segrist jumps into the pool and swims to his instructor during a lesson at the Family Y. The agency is offering free lessons to the school district's 2,555 second-graders, but during school hours.  SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
Four-year-old Samuel Segrist jumps into the pool and swims to his instructor during a lesson at the Family Y. The agency is offering free lessons to the school district's 2,555 second-graders, but during school hours.

Is taking the time to teach underprivileged children to swim during school worth losing even a minute of class instruction?

The Family Y of Greater Augusta is offering free swim lessons to the district’s 2,555 second-graders but would require the pupils to leave class for two hours each day for five consecutive days to complete the course.

Danny McConnell, the president and CEO of Family Y, said the sacrifice could potentially save a child’s life, but some Richmond County school board members are concerned about the cost: a loss of instructional time after the district learned it performed the worst on state tests among 12 similar school systems across Georgia.

“I think it’s a good program, but the only problem I have is they’re offering it during school instruction time, time we’re not in a position to lose right now,” board Vice President Venus Cain said. “Where do we draw the line on what is a school’s responsibility and what’s not the school’s responsibility?”

Richmond County Board of Education members will decide today whether the district should allow pupils to leave class for water safety lessons through the Family Y’s Splash program.

McConnell said he understands the dilemma but added that many Richmond County children are at risk of drowning because they’d never get an opportunity for formal lessons.

“There’s such a tremendous need,” McConnell said. “We are a water community with the river and lake and ponds and pools. There’s access and, of course, there’s a lot of kids that don’t have a chance to get experience for water safety.”

If approved, the program would run during the remainder of the school year, alternating schools each week until all second-graders complete the five-day course. If would begin in January.

McConnell said holding the classes during school is the only viable option because of transportation barriers for families that would come up after school or during holiday breaks.

“Once you leave school hours, many of the kids would get lost in the shuffle,” he said.

With Splash, the Family Y would provide transportation from schools to each of the three pool sites and drive the pupils back before dismissal.

The program is free to the school system, with the $50,000 cost covered by sponsors.

McConnell said this is the first time pitching the idea in Richmond County, although he conducted the classes for Liberty County, Ga., students in 2001.

Board member Helen Minchew said the issue is conflicting.

“I’m very pulled because we’re at the bottom and we’ve got to have improvement,” Minchew said. “If some of these kids are already behind, it’s just putting a lot of additional pressure on those teachers to try to make it up and catch them up.”

School Board President Alex Howard said last week that the program is worth the time commitment because of what it offers.

“I think it’s worth it if it could even save just one life,” Howard said.

Because the school board’s Student Services Committee gave initial approval to Splash last week, the full board must vote the program up or down today.

McConnell said he hopes to get access to the schools but will come up with an alternative if the motion fails. For the last two Mays, McConnell has done an open invitation-type Splash program for any child interested but had only about 500 participate, far fewer than he envisioned.

“The goal is that every kid gets that basic level of understanding,” McConnell said.

Comments (7) Add comment
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Riverman1
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Riverman1 11/15/11 - 05:36 am
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There are other, after

There are other, after school, ways to learn how to swim. This will take too much time from classroom instruction.

corgimom
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corgimom 11/15/11 - 05:41 am
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I, too, am against this. They

I, too, am against this. They need that classroom instruction, and if they lose a week's instruction, there would be no opportunity to make it up.

Craig Spinks
817
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Craig Spinks 11/15/11 - 07:08 am
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Priorities, priorities,

Priorities, priorities, priorities.

First things first.

raul
4899
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raul 11/15/11 - 09:27 am
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I wonder if a survey has been

I wonder if a survey has been done to see how many of the 2,555 students will participate if the program is offerred?

First, I think that teaching your child to swim is a parental responsibility, not the schools. But, if the program is going to be offerred, I would recommend the interested parents be given a voucher for the swim lessons and let them complete the course on their own time outside of school. Sounds like these kids need all of the in class time they can get.

Taylor B
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Taylor B 11/15/11 - 12:11 pm
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I spoke to Venus Cain this

I spoke to Venus Cain this weekend on this issue, and she brings up good points. Who will get these kids in bathing suits? Who will make sure their hair is good out of the pool? The kids should get vouchers to go out of instruction time. The parents have to have some sort of responsibility.

Hope723
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Hope723 11/15/11 - 02:18 pm
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No way. Not only is it a bad

No way. Not only is it a bad idea for liability reasons, but these children need instructional time SO much more than they need to learn to swim. I can't believe this is even a consideration!! Let's teach them what they NEED to know. Let the Y offer classes after school, and if the parents want their children involved, they can provide swimsuits and transportation. There's no reason the board should foot the transportation bill for getting these kids to and from swim lessons. That is NOT an educational necessity.

corgimom
32625
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corgimom 11/15/11 - 08:40 pm
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And who is going to buy the

And who is going to buy the swim suits, especially in January?

Riverman1
84217
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Riverman1 11/15/11 - 09:11 pm
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Just rent the pool one

Just rent the pool one afternoon a week, bus the kids there and say have fun if you really want to get into this teaching swimming thing. If anyone turns the pool yellow (hopefully not she),blow the whistle and point at him and loudly shout he is out for good. Trust me, that will influence a kid greatly.

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