The metro area mourns two children who recently drowned, and a troublesome question lingers after the funerals: What more can be done to prevent these tragedies? The circumstances of each fatality show how difficult it can be to save a person from drowning, once in the water. Grace Bettie, a 9-year-old Moorhead girl, was participating in a youth group outing June 27 in the swimming hole at Buffalo River State Park near Glyndon, Minn., when she slipped under the water. The group was watched by adult chaperones, although a witness later complained that there were not enough watchful eyes and they were not attentive enough. Three lifeguards and three park rangers were on duty at the time. But with a crowded swimming pool, it just took a moment for Grace to disappear unnoticed beneath the surface. Just two days later, a 6-year-old boy, last seen with his hands thrashing, drowned in a retention pond, 12 feet deep in the middle, in West Fargo. A fire station was a 90-second drive away.
One important way to prevent drownings is to ensure that every child learns how to swim. The park districts in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo teach swimming lessons, offering multiple sessions and skill levels, with lessons in both outdoor and indoor pools. The cost for the lessons is modest, ranging from $32 for preschoolers in Moorhead to $50 for indoor lessons in Fargo, where outdoor lessons cost $40. Both park districts recognize that some families can't afford that cost, and provide free lessons for children whose families meet income eligibility guidelines. In West Fargo, swimming lessons cost $45. The district soon will offer scholarships like those in Fargo and Moorhead for families that can't afford to pay.
Parents or guardians are responsible to see that their children learn how to swim. But we do think schools could play a helpful role. Schools have regular contact with these children. They are in a much better position than park districts to identify children who don't know how to swim. We suggest schools, especially at the elementary and middle school level, could survey their students to identify students who don't know how to swim. Schools also could distribute information about the availability of swimming lessons, and the financial assistance for those who can't afford them. Each of the park districts has a philanthropic arm that can accept donations, so those who want to help can contribute.
It's been said that it takes a village to raise a child. The village also can help to teach a child how to swim.
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