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Taking the plunge 

Comstock Park — Fourth-grader Coral Anderson waited patiently at the edge of the pool. When it was her turn to demonstrate if she could jump in, she pulled down her green water goggles, plugged her nose and took the plunge.

Through most of October, Pine Island Elementary fourth-graders are participating in the YMCA’s Safe Around Water program. 

In the past, fourth-graders had participated in a similar program at the Wolverine Worldwide Family YMCA in Belmont, but it was shut down during the COVID pandemic, said Principal Brian Morrison. Over the summer, a YMCA director contacted the district about restarting the program.

“Our fourth-grade team loved the program, so we thought it was worth pursuing,” Morrison said. 

Pure Michigan Safety

The program is designed to teach children at risk of drowning basic water skills, said Morgan Haskell, aquatics director for the YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids. It is funded through the YMCA of the USA.

Students have been split into two 2-week sessions. The program has two sequences: 

  • Jump, Push, Turn, Grab: teaches how to get back to the edge in case of a fall into the pool
  • Swim, Float, Swim: teaches how to make forward progress, roll to one’s back, float for a rest, and then roll again to one’s front for more forward progress. 

Water safety is important in Michigan because a person is never more than six miles away from a body of water, Haskell said, and drowning is the second leading cause of death for children ages 5 to 14. Michigan has more than 20% of the world’s surface freshwater, with 11,000 inland lakes, tens of thousands miles of rivers and streams and 3,000 miles of water trails. 

School of Swimmers

Teacher Rachel VandenBerg said students were pretty excited about coming to the water safety program.

“It is fun to be able to get them out of the classroom and have the students experience something that is new and gives them a chance to participate in hands-on learning,” said teacher Kate Ackerman.

From the shouts of the students, it appeared they all had a good time.

“I discovered that I am a pretty good swimmer, but I still don’t like to put my face in the water,” said fourth-grader Harrison Lankard. As for the rest of her: “I didn’t want to get out.”

Alora Hendee said she too discovered that she was a better swimmer than she thought.

Ella Hughes said she has been invited to swim at pools in her neighborhood, so she was familiar with safety. Nevertheless, the course was fun, Ella said. After all, “You are going swimming while in school.”

Fourth-grader Alora Hendee listens to a YMCA instructor
Students wait to be tested and placed in the YMCA Safe Around Water program
Fourth-grader Jack Shelner pauses in the water to listen to an instructor

Read more from Comstock Park: 
Region 1 coordinator now on the job
Summer science camp has students exploring disasters

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Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma is a reporter covering Kent ISD, Godwin Heights, Kelloggsville, Forest Hills and Comstock Park. The salutatorian for the Hartland Public Schools class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism. Joanne moved to the Grand Rapids area in 1989, where she started her journalism career at the Advance Newspapers. She later became the editor for On-the-Town magazine, a local arts and entertainment publication. Her eldest daughter is a nurse, working in Holland, and her youngest attends Oakland University. Both are graduates from Byron Center High School. She is a volunteer for the Van Singel Fine Arts Advisory Board and the Kent District Library. In her free time, Joanne enjoys spending time with her family, checking out local theater and keeping up with all the exchange students they have hosted through the years. Read Joanne's full bio


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