Clearwater Students Trade Gym Clothes For Swimsuits During School Day

D'Ann Lawrence White | Clearwater Patch

May 17, 2022

"Drowning is fast, silent and can happen to anyone," said Long Center aquatic coordinator Jill Sparks.

Living in Clearwater, a city surrounded by the Gulf and containing numerous lakes and thousands of swimming pools, knowing how to swim and the basics of water safety is essential.

As part of National Swim Month in May, 172 Belleair Elementary School students are trading their gym clothes for swimsuits and spending their physical education classes at the North Greenwood Recreation Center, 900 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Ave.

The students are learning how to swim, tread water and be safe in and around the pool as part of a city partnership with Pinellas County Schools, the Juvenile Welfare Board, Clearwater for Youth, Stingray and ION Physical Therapy Network.

“This program recently took place for the first time at the Long Center. It was amazing to see so many children learn how to swim,” said recreation division manager Sandy Clayton.

She noted this is especially critical in Florida where children are around the water so often. More children under the age of 4 drown in Florida than anywhere else in the nation. She said data shows formal swim lessons cut the risk of drowning by 88 percent.

During the two-week program, children hop on a bus during their regularly scheduled PE time and ride to the North Greenwood Recreation Center for their swim lessons, then return to school for their other courses.

Starting Monday, each Belleair Elementary student in grades first through third will participate in two weeks of swim lessons with a certified swim instructor and receive a pair of goggles, a swim cap and a T-shirt from Stingray and ION Physical Therapy Network.

The local agencies’ goal is to add a new school to their list each year.

The partners held a pilot program from April 25 to 29 for Skycrest Elementary School who spent their physical education period at the pool at the Long Center, 1501 N. Belcher Road.

“Providing and including water safety classes as part of elementary education curriculum has always been a goal for the Clearwater Parks & Recreation Department,” said recreation manager Shaun Beasley. “The challenge for years has been finding a way to transport children from school to the recreation center pools.”

Clearwater for Youth, a local nonprofit organization that provides resources to ensure children can participate in athletic and recreation programs, stepped in and provided the needed funding for the transportation.

“Drowning is fast, silent and can happen to anyone,” said Long Center aquatic coordinator Jill Sparks. “We want to give these kids the tools they need to be safe in the pool this summer and for the rest of their lives.”

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