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Water safety has an impact

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Words failed Quinn Barrier when she was asked this week to tell the Georgetown County School Board about her water safety class at the YMCA. But her father, Jason, had plenty to say about the program that Quinn and more than 700 other second-graders in the county completed this year.

“We were surprised at the safety issues she would come home and talk to us about,” Barrier said. Even though his daughter already knew how to swim, “these children really did learn potentially life-saving skills.”

During the year, second-grade classes from each elementary school went to the Y for four lessons in basic water safety.

The district paid $12,000 for the program, a quarter of the cost. Georgetown County, the Y and the Frances P. Bunnelle Foundation paid the same amounts.

Waccamaw Elementary, where Quinn is a student, took the lessons this spring. The program drew praise from teachers and students. “If the Y Splash program saves just one life (and I’m sure it will do far more) then how could anyone put a price tag on that?” Regina Pieterse, a Waccamaw teacher, wrote in one of dozens of letters given to the board.

Georgetown County’s contribution has been questioned by Council Member Bob Anderson. He said last week that every child needs to know how to swim, but that’s the responsibility of parents rather than local government.

Churches and community groups need to help if parents can’t afford them, he said.

Amy Brennan, executive director of the Y, agrees with that concept, but says that’s what the water safety program does already.

The Y and the Bunnelle Foundation got commitments for ongoing funding from the school district and the county before the program started, Brennan said.

It’s still in the district budget, where cuts in several programs were made to offset the loss of federal stimulus funds in the coming fiscal year.

The Y is looking at grants to support the program in the future, but will need local support until then, Brennan said.

The Y also provides about $100,000 a year in subsidies for families that can’t afford Y programs, she said.

And the Y Splash program isn’t just swimming lessons, she noted. “We don’t pretend to be able to teach a child to swim in four 45-minute lessons.”

Brennan was pleased that many of the letters students sent the instructors mentioned the safety aspects.

Teachers also took note of that.

“I was shocked to see that some of my students had never had any previous experience in the water,” wrote Jennifer Thomas, a teacher at Waccamaw Elementary.

Brennan sees the program as a way to break the “generations of fear” among families in the county who don’t know how to swim.

“It’s a very rewarding program,” she said. “We just want to sustain it.”

While the school district continues to look for ways to balance the 2012 budget, board members agreed this week to restore funds for a summer arts program for the district’s gifted and talented students.

The district cut the program from four weeks to two last year, then cut it to one week. Eliminating it would save $62,500.

The board already voted to restore middle school sports teams, which cost $79,600 a year, agreeing with Superintendent Randy Dozier they provide other benefits to students.

Dozier told the board both programs could be funded from the $7.8 million reserve fund. “We’re in decent shape with that,” he said.

The district also has the ability to raise taxes 1.6 percent, based on last year’s cost of living index. That would cost owners of non-residential property $10.20 for every $100,000 of market value. It would raise $600,000 to $700,000, less than originally forecast.

Board Member Teresa Bennani supports the tax increase, but said it should be targeted at specific programs. “Otherwise some of the savings we’ve experienced as a district could easily be lost,” she said.

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