Hunter Redman swims at the Kokomo YMCA on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019. Staff photo by Tim Bath
Hunter Redman swims at the Kokomo YMCA on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019. Staff photo by Tim Bath
In July 2017, a 6-year-old boy was playing in a drainage ditch filled with water near Galveston when he went under and never resurfaced. The child later died at St. Vincent Kokomo.

For Katy Kincaid, the aquatics director at the Kokomo YMCA, the incident was a stark reminder that teaching children how to be safe around water isn’t just a luxury for parents who can afford swim lessons. It’s a necessity.

“Tragic as it was, it was a wake-up call,” she said.

The next year, Kincaid received grant money to implement a new program that allowed swimming instructors from the Y to travel to Lewis Cass Schools to give every kindergarten student there free swim lessons.

And now, the Y has brought the Safety Around Water program to Howard County.

Every kindergarten student at Taylor Community schools is currently in the middle of the program. Since the beginning of the month, school buses have brought the kids to the Y for free, 30-minute lessons that teach the basics about swimming.

Kincaid said the includes how to jump into water, how to float on their backs and then flip around to swim away and how to keep their heads above water.

Every student receives eight lessons over a two-week period that will give them the skills to survive if they ever found themselves in the situation like the boy from Cass County, she said.

And teaching those skills is more important than most people realize.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accidental drowning was the leading cause of death in kids aged 1 to 4, and the fifth leading cause of unintentional injury death in the United States. Last year, there were 91 fatal child drownings.

Kincaid said those numbers are shocking, and terribly sad.

“It’s crazy there are so many unintentional deaths, because it’s so preventable,” she said.

And that prevention comes from teaching kids the basics of swimming through programs like the one at the Y.

“Before the kids started here, some of them didn’t even want to put their face under the water, and now they’re going under water no problem,” Kincaid said. “It just takes someone saying, ‘This is how you do it.’ They possess the skills to do it, it just takes someone putting it together for them.”

Kincaid said the money to pay for the program came from the national YMCA organization, and the funding should cover all the Taylor students, as well as kindergartners from Tri-Central Community Schools, who will start the program next month.

The Y started with those schools because neither district has an in-house pool.

But Kincaid is working to ensure that once that grant money is gone, the program won’t end. She said she’s currently sending out flyers to drum up enough donations to allow every kindergartner in the area to get free lessons.

“I want every kindergartner in Howard County to go through the program, but I’m a big dreamer,” Kincaid said. “We’re reaching for the stars here, but we are on a mission.”

She said it costs about $500 to put 25 kids through the program, and she hopes to raise enough money to at least offer free swim lessons to the school districts that need it most.

Any parent who is interested in getting free swim lessons for their child, who may not be in a district that is participating in the program, is also welcome to reach out to the Y, Kincaid said.

In the end, she said, the program is all about giving as many kids as possible the tools and techniques they need to survive and thrive around water, and prevent any child from ever unintentionally drowning, ever again.

“If these kids would find themselves in water and never had these lessons, it would be really scary,” Kincaid said. “I love the water, and I want kids to love the water, too.”
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