HMS seventh graders learn about water safety, aquatic activities through collaborative education program at YMCA

Seventh grade students from HMS took turns honing their kicking techniques in the Hannibal YMCA pool on Thursday, joining the kickoff of an expanded aquatics program.

Hannibal YMCA Swim Instructor Chris Davis said last year's program helped fill a need to reach students in middle school. Davis said this second year will focus on “aquatics as a whole,” with seventh-grade physical education students learning something new during each of their five visits — like recreational swimming and competitive swimming techniques, lifeguarding, diving skills and water safety procedures.

Davis said the community gathered together to expand the program through partnerships with the Hannibal School District, the Missouri State Highway Patrol and members of the YMCA's 100-Mile Swim Club.

“We've got a ton of lakes and rivers in this area, and one thing that doesn't get taught enough is water jackets and water safety,” he said. “We don't want anyone to drown. This program is going to hopefully kickstart some programs we're looking to expand in the future.”

Sgt. William Koch, with the Marine Division of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, started the session by discussing various types of life jackets, inviting students to try each one on and jump in the water. They discussed the pros and cons of each type of device Koch showed with Davis and volunteer instructor Sandy Cox. He shares information about life jackets and their proper use all year, but he said the opportunity was unique to teach the students with an indoor pool nearby.

“I've never taught here, but it was nice to teach here at the Y with the other instructors,” he said. “It was nice, because they had a pool right here and I had students who were willing to get in the water. Being able to show someone is so much easier for them to understand rather than me just telling them.”

Davis and Cox assisted students one-on-one — helping students who are not comfortable in the water gain confidence while they match the pace of more experienced swimmers in the group.

Student Tyesha Blackwell said she enjoyed practicing her kicks as she made her way back and forth in the pool.

She shared why she feels the program is important. “Some kids don't know about life jackets, and it was really cool to have them in the water,” she said.

Skilar Ward agreed that the water safety skills could help save lives. “I thought that I needed to know which ones were good for the river, and what the pros and cons were,” he said. Ward said he enjoys swimming so much that he hopes to get the chance to race.

HMS Physical Education Instructor Evan Cerven said the experience offered a variety of real-world examples and demonstrations to help instill safety practices for a lifetime.

“I think just getting kids comfortable in the water is again establishing that safety, so they know what to expect and how to conduct themselves when they're grown up and out in the real world,” he said. “It's a great preventative measure that our community does for these kids.”

Davis said that the program could result in students branching out to explore areas of aquatics like swimming lessons, the swim team and lifeguard courses. He thanked various community members for making the program possible for the students.

“This really is a collaborative effort,” he said. “It's the Y's program, but we're doing it together.”

trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com