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 year.

?Swim Central was my inspiration for our program,? said Anna Stewart, manager of the coalition. ?It?s amazing what they?re doing there.?