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Island children can take water safety class for free

Any Islander who will complete third or fourth grade this school year is eligible for two weeks of swim lessons for free at the Vashon public pool this summer, thanks to a program called Make A Splash that King County and Vashon Park District have agreed to fully fund this year.

“It’s a great opportunity for all the kids on Vashon, said Vashon Aquatic Club President Gary Gray, who heard about the program and solicited the financial assistance of King County and Vashon Park District to make the program a reality on Vashon. “I think this is just the beginning of work that’s going to be done to protect our children on Vashon. These are great people to work with, so I’m very pleased.”

The goals of Make A Splash are to reduce drownings, promote physical fitness, adress childhood obesity and promote swimming to include children of all backgrounds, he told the Vashon Park District board while asking them to cover half the program’s cost.

Kids can take lessons in the morning or evening, half-hour lessons beginning between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. or 5 and 7 p.m., said Kim Krumvieda-Buchan, King County acting aquatic supervisor. Swimmers will be placed in one of six swim lesson levels based on their skill in the water, and each group lesson can have up to six swimmers. The Make A Splash swimmers will be in the same lessons as paying lesson-takers.

Morning lessons are Monday through Friday and evening lessons are Monday through Thursday, because many people leave town Friday evenings for weekend trips, she said.

Vashon is the fifth location nationwide to be accepted to Make A Splash, which is a program of the USA Swimming Foundation, Gray said.

He said third and fourth graders were chosen to participate in the program “because the kids are cognitively aware and physically able” to take advantag of the instruction they’ll be given in the water.

Twelve Red Cross-certified instructors hired by King County Parks and Recreation will teach the lessons, Krumvieda-Buchan said, all of them Islanders, and the classes will include safety tailored to the skill level of the swimmers. Beginners will learn how to don life jackets, while more advanced swimmers will learn how to deal with a spine injury. Some students may learn boating safety, she said.

“I look forward to seeing how many kids take advantage of the program,” Krumvieda-Buchan said.

Gray said he anticipates 25 percent of students who have completed third and fourth grades this academic year on Vashon, or 58 swimmers, will enroll in Make A Splash this summer, based on data for similar free swim lesson programs through Seattle Parks and Recreation.

Gray said some students may qualify for lesson scholarships, which would give them $32 off a second two-week swim session (they’d need to pay the balance of $36).

Although the financial contributions from King County and Vashon Park District were each one-time donations, Gray said he wants Make A Splash to be a sustainable program on the Island.

“We’ll try to raise money through local and public donations,” he said. “We only asked them for money to kick this program off.”

David Hackett, Vashon Park District board chair, said he’d like to solicit the financial help of Vashon Island Fire & Rescue as well to keep the Make A Splash program afloat.

“We want to see if the fire district is interested in this too — It’s within their mission to do public education,” he said. “So if the program were to expand, we might look to them for some support.”

He said he was glad to see King County chipping in to support Island programs.

“Anytime we can take funds from off the Island and match them with Island funds and make a program out of them, that’s something we like to do — a real winner. Lots of people think, and the board thinks this too, that when you’re on an Island it’s really important to learn how to be safe around water.”

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