‘Everybody in the pool!’

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Hundreds of kids across the Flathead will be jumping not just into a new school year, but also into the swimming pool come January courtesy of The Wave’s School to Pool Program.

The Wave Aquatic and Fitness Center in Whitefish has been helping kids learn to love swimming and safety on the water ever since it started its School to Pool program in 2007.

More than 4,800 third and fourth graders in the Flathead Valley have participated in the ongoing program, which the nonprofit organization runs annually from January until the end of the school year.

The Wave coordinates with local elementary school administrators and teachers to include the free program as part of their academic curriculum, giving children the opportunity to learn how to swim that otherwise might not have had the chance. Professionally trained and certified staff teach the lessons, while The Wave covers the fees and even helps with transportation to and from the school.

The Wave’s director Art Krueger gives a “tip of the hat” to Aquatics manager Tiffany Gould who has spearheaded School to Pool during the program’s 11 years.

“For the last 40 years, the city of Whitefish has wanted a pool,” Krueger said. “The Wave board wanted to start a program with the intention of improving the health and well-being of the community. Tiffany and her staff have done an amazing job.”

“This four week-course is an amazing opportunity for the community,” Gould said. “It’s especially good for those children who can’t afford swim lessons. And all the kids learn how to be safer and gain confidence around the water … and they have fun.”

The Wave’s School to Pool Program, which has a rotating staff of about a dozen instructors, was the recent recipient of the American Red Cross Gold Level Learn to Swim Provider Award.

Krueger shared the following statistics:

• Every day, about 10 people die from unintentional drowning. Of these, two are children aged 14 or younger.

• Among those children aged 1 to 14 years, fatal drowning remains the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death behind motor vehicle crashes. (http://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars)

• Formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning by 88 percent among children aged 1 to 4 years. (Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 2009)

During the four-week course, children also learn the importance of life jackets and how to put one on properly.

“They learn, as they grow and become more adventurous, what’s safe and what isn’t,” Krueger said. “Now kids ask, ‘Where are the life jackets?’ when they climb into a boat.”

The program has even benefited parents who decided to take lessons themselves after seeing their own kids learn to swim.

“I know that throughout all the years we’ve had this program, it has saved lives,” Krueger said.

“This is the best opportunity I’ve ever had,” Gould adds, “working for The Wave and helping the community.”

A nonprofit organization, The Wave is participating in the Whitefish Community Foundation’s Great Fish Challenge to raise funds. Donations to this program can be made here: http://greatfishchallenge.whitefishcommunityfoundation.org/the-wave-aquatic-and-fitness-center/

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