In 1996 Broward County, Fla., reported five drowning
deaths of children ages 5 to 9. In 2006 only one death was
reported, and it appears that the decrease may be
attributed to the establishment of Swim Central, a
countywide water safety program.
Swim Central teaches basic water safety skills,
including pool entry/exit, bubble blowing and turning over
in the water. The program is administered at no cost to
parents in cooperation with local schools. When it debuted
in 1999, 18 schools participated. Last year, 130 schools
offered the program.
?The results really speak for themselves: You
see fewer news reports of children drowning,? said
Matt Berman, program director.
Most recently, Swim Central launched the Marino Swim
Central Adaptive Aquatics program to certify instructors
for work with children who have special needs. In Broward
County, an average of 12 percent of youngsters enrolled in
Swim Central are identified as having disabilities.
Drowning is the No. 1 cause of death for those age 1 to
4, and elementary-age children also are at risk because
they lack water safety skills, said Pamela Santucci,
program manager, Broward County Health Department.
The large number of beaches, pools and canals in Broward
County led to the development of Swim Central. Created
nearly a decade ago, it is a collaboration of local swim
instructors and aquatics managers.
The program was established by the Broward County
Commission. Shortly thereafter, a collaborative partnership
was established with the Broward County School Board and
the Florida legislature, which agreed to a special
appropriation of $200,000 for water safety education and
instruction in preschool, kindergarten and first-grade
classes. The county?s Children?s Services
Council also supports Swim Central, and community support
has enabled the program to become the primary resource for
aquatic safety and swim lessons in Broward County.
As word of the Swim Central program spreads, Berman said
other communities are contacting him for advice on
implementing similar undertakings.
One such program is Pools and Schools, a pilot program
developed by the Palm Beach County Drowning Prevention
Coalition. Through Pools and Schools, 160 kindergartners
and first-graders at Pioneer Park Elementary School in
Belle Glade are receiving water safety lessons this school
?Swim Central was my inspiration for our
program,? said Anna Stewart, manager of the
coalition. ?It?s amazing what
they?re doing there.?